An Enemy of the People (1978) Review

Director: George Schaefer

Genre(s): Drama

Runtime: 103 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

An Enemy of the People has Steve McQueen playing one of his most unexpected roles: a nineteenth-century Norwegian doctor. The “King of Cool” doesn’t even whup anybody’s ass in this film! Anyway, this flick is about small-town doctor Thomas Stockmann (Steve McQueen) discovering that the waters for the community’s new medicinal spas are actually infected with dangerous bacteria, and his fight against the power to ensure the safety of tourists and others.

This drama, being based on an 1882 play from Henrik Ibsen, is certainly a talky one. Being inspired by a work of theater, use of locations is fairly limited, and, needless to say, there are no big action set-pieces. Still, Steve McQueen largely disappears into the role, partially thanks to a bushy beard. Hell, it seems like every adult male in Norway at the time was required by law to have facial hair, based on this movie.

Okay, so we have beards and talkiness, so what’s to like about An Enemy of the People? Well, the picture probes interesting philosophical conundrums that are still relevant, especially after the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and the outbreak of COVID-19. This feature is all about the clash between public health and political expediency. The film illustrates how easily democracy can be subverted, reinforcing that the majority is not always right.

Steve McQueen executive produced this feature, feeling it might give him a good chance to show off his acting talent, giving him a break from action-oriented roles. Unfortunately, it was not a financial success, and McQueen would only star in two more films before his passing. An Enemy of the People isn’t a top-tier McQueen flick, but it is food for thought.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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