Reviews of Public Enemies
Displaying all 14 reviews
Is it me, or did this movie just kinda disappear REAL quick? It feels like this came out YEARS ago when in fact its barely been 2 years since its release. How is that possible? ‘Public Enemies’ shoulda been epic. It shoulda been one of the last great films of the decade. Christian Bale and Johnny Depp under the direction of Michael Mann in a film about John Dillinger. How could that have failed? Maybe in 10 years I’ll come around like I did with ‘Ali’, but right now this feels like one of the biggest letdowns in recent years. Have the ‘Pirates Of The Carribean’ movies become THAT popular and THAT big that it makes people forget about and/or ignore anything Johnny Depp has acted in since 2003? It sure seems that way. In a lot of ways ‘Public Enemies’ feels like Mann was trying to recreate ‘Heat’ for this era: Two extremely popular actors at the moment (Deniro/Pacino in the mid 90’s & Depp/Bale in this era) face off against each other in an epic crime drama where the lines between who’s the “good guy” and who’s the “bad guy” are blurred. Lets face it, Michael Mann LOVES to make good guys out of bad guys. We cheered for James Caan in ‘Thief’ knowing that he was a jewel thief. Everyone thought Tom Cruise was a total “badass” in ‘Collateral’ when in fact he was the “bad guy”. In ‘Heat’ we found ourselves rooting for Deniro’s character (the bank robber) just as much as Pacino (the cop). And the same thing applies with ‘Public Enemies’. Michael Mann makes John Dillinger out to be more of a suave robin hood-esque antihero than he does a criminal (although from what I understand, that portrayal of Dillinger is somewhat accurate). There’s also subplots in both ‘Heat’ & ‘Public Enemies’ involving love interests (the scene in ‘Public Enemies’ where Marion Cotillard is picked up by the police at the bank is very reminiscent of the scene when the police are trying to set Val Kilmer up with Ashley Judd in ‘Heat’). And there are pivotal shootout scenes in both films that draw comparison to one another as well.
But for some reason, ‘Public Enemies’ didn’t have the same vibe as ‘Heat’. It actually felt boring at times. I understand focusing on detail, especially in a biopic, but not everything that Mann focused on was needed. Half way through the movie you kinda go; “ok ok, John Dillinger was good at breaking out of Jail. How many prison break scenes is Michael Mann gonna show us?!”
And I’m sure the relationship between John Dillinger and his girlfriend Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) was strong, but something tells me it wasn’t as passionate as Mann made it out to be. You’re telling me at no point that a guy like John Dillinger didn’t rough his girlfriend up? Or smack her around? C’mon now…
The cinematography was another major downfall. I’ve watched ‘Public Enemies’ numerous times with people (both in the theater and on television) and its always the same complaint: “why does the movie look like that” or “I don’t like the camera being used”. That famous Michael Mann “look” worked for stuff like ‘Miami Vice’ and ‘Collateral’, but it was kind of a mess at times in ‘Public Enemies’. Not all the time, but sometimes. Take the motel shootout scene for example. After a while I had no idea who was who, who was shooting at who, who were the good guys or who were the bad guys, I didn’t even know if i was looking at Christian Bale or Johnny Depp.
And whats strange is that for a film that goes in and out of looking great to looking like it was shot on the latest camera phone, when you pic out individual stills from ‘Public Enemies’ and look at them, they look beautiful. Really great images that convey amazing cinematography and lighting just like almost anything else Michael Mann does. But in between some of those beautiful stills, the cinematography just looks chaotic and disorienting.
And as far as imagery & cinematography are concerned, Michael Mann continues to shoot his signature “close-up” shot of his actors faces, just like he did in ‘Miami Vice’, ‘Collaterl’, ‘Ali’ and ‘Heat’ with that almost fish eye lens effect.
‘Public Enemies’ is the story of the “cat & mouse” game between notorious gangster John Dillinger (Depp) and FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Bale). Other portrayals of famous figures include; J Edgar Hoover (Billy Curdup), “Babyface Nelson” (Stephen Graham) and “Pretty Boy Flloyd” (played by Channing Tatum in a short appearance). At BEST, this movie is “meh, ok” (sorry to sound so harsh, but its true). Even before I saw ‘Public Enemies’ I loved the idea of Johnny Depp playing Dillinger. I guess maybe my one complaint was that Christian Bale’s presence wasn’t very memorable. Its almost like anyone couldve played his part and you wouldn’t have noticed the difference. There were other distractions as well. Don’t get me wrong, the supporting cast was great, but at the same time he had SO many recognizable actors in bit parts & extended cameos that it threw me off. People like Lili Taylor, James Russo, Stephen Dorff, Giovanni Ribisi, Leile Sobieski, etc. Their characters would be introduced, they’d have about 5 minutes of screen time, and then you’d never see ‘em again. A new character gets introduced so often you start going; “wait, who is that again and whats his or her purpose in the story?”
Maybe I just prefer Michael Mann’s films to be set in the present day. After all, I’m not too crazy about his other 2 films that take place “back in the day” (‘The Last Of The Mohicans’ and ‘The Keep’). In a film that’s set in the 1930’s you cant get a lot of the same Michael Mann-esque imagery that we saw in ‘Heat’ or ‘Collateral’. Mann didn’t have any nighttime city landscapes too shoot or scenes set around water or beachfront property like half of his work. No images of modern architecture, city landscapes or cars speeding on the freeways. I hope what I’m about to say makes sense and doesn’t sound like I’m reaching, but Mann’s digital filming style is so modern and up to date that even when you watch a film like ‘Public Enemies’ that takes place in the 1930’s, you cant help but think about all the new technology and modern “look” of his films that it subconsciously makes us think of the present day. ‘Public Enemies’ doesn’t really feel like its set in the 1930’s all the time.
I know I’m typing a lot and expressing a lot of passionate opinions, but I love Michael Mann and I feel like we missed out on what coulda been a really great film. ‘Public Enemies’ could have been this generation’s ‘Untouchables’ when you think about it. All the pieces were there but everything seemed flat. How is it possible to make a borderline boring movie about the life of John Dillinger?
This past decade has been a strange one for man. ‘Ali’ and ‘Collateral’ seem to be loved by most people, but his last 2 films left people scratching their heads. In 2011 I STILL cant convince people that ‘Miami Vice’ is actually a very good movie and ‘Public Enemies’ kinda failed with critics, fans and at the box office. I hope his next film (which is supposed to be a period piece staring Andrew Garfield) can redeem him. In the meantime we got quite a few filmmakers using his style to make names for themselves (Christopher Nolan and Nicolas Winding Refn to be exact) so I guess that will have to do for now.
- Currently 2.0/5 Stars.
It really is a great throwback to 30s Gangster films and at the same time a very different take on the genre. While I wasn’t crazy about the fact that it switches from film to video, that’s really the only bad thing I have to say about it. The storytelling is amazing as usual from Michael Mann, you get very two different viewpoints on crime and right vs. wrong. Yet, somehow these two characters that have such conflicts are not so far off from each other. Johnny Depp gives another amazing performance as John Dillinger, it was such a convincing and different role for him. Christian Bale also gave an equally impressive performance as Special Agent Purvis. The visuals and attention to detail when it came to the time period was incredible, you really had a sense that you were in the 1930s. The action sequences, like all Michael Mann’s films, were incredible and almost too life-like. When they fire Tommy Guns off of moving cars it doesn’t look fake, but something that could actually be done. The fact that it wasn’t over glorified really makes it all the more fun to watch. It’s the closest Michael Mann has gotten to reigniting the magic of Heat and in many ways this is just as good. The fact that the film isn’t as dynamic or charming as you might expect is really what makes it all the more realistic and worthwhile. I feel like it really deconstructed the classic gangster in a way that hadn’t been done since The Untouchables.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
When the trailer for Public Enemies premiered in early 09, one could be excused for thinking that this was going to be a slam bang action movie. But considering this is Michael Mann, who perhaps pulled off one of the biggest artistic coups of the decade when he turned Miami Vice into a hard boiled noir film by way of Wong Kar Wai, we shouldn’t be too surprised that this isn’t what we have here.
Mann drops us into the middle of the action, as he loves to do, and we join John Dillinger as he busts his cohorts out of prison. Shooting once again in High Def, Mann makes the 30’s feel very much in the present. That appears to be one of the aesthetic properties of High Def as opposed to film, film gives us the feeling of watching something that has happened, and HD gives us the feeling of watching something that is happening. And like Miami Vice, we do feel as if we are watching events that are happening.
We follow Dillinger during the last year of his life as he goes on a bank robbing spree throughout the midwest. But mainly we are following Dillinger as he tries to experience as much life in as short a period of time as possible. Through his use of HD, and by putting us into what feels like the present, we experience all of these experiences as Dillinger experiences them. The film unfolds over a period of one year, but with the exception of the beginning of the film,when we are told it is 1933, we really have no concept of time ellapsing. It is as if we are stuck in an eternal present, a place where there is no future and there is no past.
This feeling of no future and no past is one of the fascinating things about the film, because it does take place in the past. It is almost as if Mann is telling us that we have an idealized notion of the past, and he appears to be doing everything in his power to strip all of those notions from the film. And yet, Dillinger does seem to be a mythic hero, a man out of time who is being crushed by the modernity that is closing in all around him. It is this schizm between realism and myth that makes the film fascinating and difficult to pin down.
Although Mann is dealing with real life characters, he is once again creating characters who seem to have no past and no future, these are characters who seem to be living in an eternal moment. Mann has stripped his storytelling to its bare essentials, so he is relying on his actors to fill in a lot of background with their characters through their actions, and top to bottom the cast succeeds. Johnny Depp has the right amount of charm and devil may care charisma as Dillinger. He is exceptional at capturing the curiosity behind Dillinger’s eyes, as the world to Dillinger, who has just spent 10 years in prison, would seem to be a very exciting place, and a very different place.
Christian Bale is also quite good as Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who is assigned the task of bringing Dillinger to justice. Bale is not afforded nearly as much screen time as Depp, but he does a good job at capturing the schism that develops within Purvis as he betrays his own ethics out of blind loyalty to the FBI and Hoover. Marion Cotillard also delivers a terrific performance as Billie Frechette, Dillinger’s love interest during the film. Her role is under developped, but she brings a real poignancy to her performance, and her and Depp do have great chemistry.
The film does take on a very tragic tone towards the end of the film, at moments reminding me of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, as the weight of the world seems to be on Dillinger. It is here that we realize how much Mann empathizes with this man out of time, and the character of Dillinger almost seems to go to the core of who Mann is as an artist. Mann seems to understand the pitfalls and the lie of this male myth, and yet he yearns for it to be true, creating a sense of loneliness and isolation that seems to be at the core of all of Mann’s films.
So ultimately Public Enemies is still dealing with the myth of Dillinger, and Mann has not given us the truth about Dillinger, but he has created a countermyth, and in the process has given us not only a great film, but a masterpiece.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
The film has a beautiful look from the costumes to the camera work. It’s art direction is supreme truly one of the best looking films of the year if only the material could match the film.
Everything about this film screams style. It’s like a 1930’s classic gangster movie only more violent. It even includes a Love story to romanticize the character of john dillinger humanize him so that he doesn’t seem like just a random thug they type he works with and more of a heroic outlaw. Yet it seems kind of out of place in this film like it was lumped in for the female audience and so we could see the criminals gentle side. It also feels like filler. Though without it the film could have been a little shorter. Since though there is romance they are apart for most of the film so it becomes more of a longing love.
The High-Definition cameras make the locations that are supposed to be time accurate look more like sets and therefore fake. Though again the art direction makes up for it. The costumes add a bit of class to the production and makes everyone look dapper.
While we do learn a lot about john dillinger we learn next to nothing about the man who pursued him Melvin Purvis who seems to have no life outside of the pursuit of these criminals which is really disappointing considering what we find out about him late in the film.
Though there are plenty of roles filled out by Michael Mann’s usual array of actors. I’m not sure why Channing Tatum has a cameo in this film for only one scene. Most of the cast is so good looking it’s more like the film was cast with actors more for there looks of marque idols then there acting. though they are all good.
Michael Mann once again shows that he is not only a master of cinema but of action sequences gun battles in particular. The camera never seems to rest but it’s not distracting it makes the film seem vital and alive. It’s the action scenes that make the film come alive. Some scenes are a little too long at times to keep the suspense going.
In my eyes Johnny Depp can do no wrong but this is one of his most reserved performances his character really has no quirks which he usually has when playing even real life characters. Here he is laid back and calm but he has a silent intensity that you can see in his eyes like they are always on the lookout. He is always thinking.
- Currently 2.0/5 Stars.
Public Enemies has many of the motifs that Michael Mann movies have: (1) there are parallel lives between men on opposite sides of the law; (2) fatalistic romance; (3) ominous mood music; (4) emotional and physical violence; and (5) everything on the screen looks just so perfect. This approach has worked well for him in nearly all his films. (Yes, I even liked the juvenilia effort, “Manhunter.”)
But Public Enemies just didn’t have heart. It could be because we all know how its going to end. It might be because, not quite enough screen time was spent showing (not just explaining) the powers gathering against Dillenger.
(P.S. – I had problems with the blu-ray. Maybe I need to down load the new software, but the in screen commentary kept popping up.)
- Currently 2.0/5 Stars.
It’s probably not too controversial to posit that Michael Mann makes masculine films for men, mainly because it’s true. Not one of his films or the TV shows he has created has a female lead or even a palpable female presence. I’ve skimmed through Mann’s list of fans here at Auteurs and noticed that the overwhelming majority are men. Before this gets me falsely pegged as a bleeding heart feminist, I’ll point out that I don’t mind films featuring men. There are plenty on my list of Favorites. However, Mann’s mythologizing of men makes his work both mysteriously alluring yet inscrutable to the opposite sex. At least, that has been my experience. I don’t dislike his films but I cannot bring myself to love them, either.
There are some things to admire in Public Enemies, such as the curiously paradoxical choice of digital video as his medium. The Notebook discussion, Frontiers of Extinction addresses it more thoroughly than I can so I won’t bother getting into it here. In a nutshell, the digital image brings both a realism and artifice to the film. It’s an interesting concept, though not entirely successful — at times, the format kills any suspension of disbelief. Perhaps that was Mann’s intention all along: to create his mythical men (and woman) by messing with our notion of realism.
The testosterone-laden dream cast is a mixed bag of hits and misses. Johnny Depp as John Dillinger — public enemy number one — is charming and appealing as always, but strangely not compelling. Christian Bale is slightly miscast as Melvin Purvis, who in real life was more of a bureaucratic showman than depicted. Billy Crudup plays J. Edgar Hoover with an almost cartoonish simplicity; the deeply involved power play between Purvis and Hoover is left unexplored though briefly alluded to in a few exchanges. Marion Cotillard channels a young doe-eyed Meg Ryan as Dillinger’s paramour, Billie Frechette. Mann’s version of Billie is the same cliche that exists in all his films — the paragon of beauty, innocence, sexuality, dainty fragility but fiery toughness and absolute loyalty to her man — yet Cotillard transcends that cliche as much as she can with earnestness and vitality. Unquestionably, the ultimate scene stealer for most viewers is Stephen Lang as Agent Charles Winstead. The most heroic moments in the film all belong to him; Lang’s solid (as I’ve heard so many say, “badassss”) performance finally does justice to this nearly forgotten G-man whose role in the gangster era has been nothing short of extraordinary.
And then there are the extravagantly liberal uses of artistic license with the facts. The final scene with Billie and Winstead is one of the most memorable and beautiful endings I’ve seen in a while. The fact that it never happened in real life does not detract from its poetic elegance or the two perfect performances in it. The point is it could have happened — it is true to Winstead’s character and the fact that, as the keeper of one of the enduring Dillinger mysteries (and a piece of its mythology), he was indeed in a position to make it happen. On the other hand, the liberties taken with almost every other aspect of the Dillinger story are as baffling as they are infuriating. “Pretty Boy” Floyd was apprehended several months after the events depicted in film, nor did Purvis personally shoot him — he was not an experienced gunman by any stretch. “Baby Face” Nelson was not killed at Little Bohemia, and again, he was not shot by Purvis who wasn’t even present at the tragic shootout with the Nelson gang that cost the lives of two notable G-Men. The most offensive abuse of fact is the scene in which Dillinger (in disguise) brazenly strolls into the office of the FBI’s Dillinger Squad and strolls out without being noticed. Not only is it unlikely but it is insulting to the people who risked and lost so much chasing after the likes of Dillinger, who was no Robin Hood — he was a thieving, womanizing murderer on a crime spree. He was no lovelorn Romeo either: when Dillinger died, Billie had long been replaced by Polly Hamilton — the woman played by Leelee Sobieski; Polly’s photo was in his locket then, not Billie’s.
I understand perfectly well the reasons for creative license and the freedom with which artists are entitled to exercise it. I also understand the notion of creating myth out of the remnants of history and memory. But there is still an obligation to be faithful to the fundamental truths and themes. Had Mann capitalized on the digital medium to deconstruct the romanticization of Dillinger, I might have been impressed. Instead, he is Narcissus again, gazing upon his own reflection, in love with his own male myth.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
Sometimes, the knowledge that a certain director is making a film can not only overshadow but also skew an audiences’ perception of a film. Such is the case with Public Enemies. The fact that Michael Mann was making another crime epic in the vein of Heat got everyone, myself included, talking early on and very excited. After all, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale are, arguably, a lot like DeNiro and Pacino to our generation. They both continue to impress with varied film roles in multiple genres as true leading men/character actor hybrids and both men have worked alongside some of today’s most talented auteurs. So all these ingredients, when put into a pot, boiled, stirring occasionally, should have made a tasty gangster film-stew, one that was not only tasty and satisfying but kept you full long after the meal was done, so to speak. But Mann, unfortunately, was trying too hard to make his film visually stunning to pay attention to what was happening in the plot. In fact, maybe even he wasn’t aware of what he did. Quite simply, the similarities between Public Enemies and Heat are staggering. The main characters journeys are stunningly similar, there are recognizable character actors throughout the film, and the themes of freedom and justice are almost identical. I really believe Mann was trying to experiment with his digital film format, and he knew the only way a studio would let him was if it had the biggest stars in Hollywood behind it. In my mind, the story absolutely took a back seat to the gorgeous, jaw-dropping cinematography. Not only does it compliment the films’ tone, but it also shows us the capability of the HD video format. There’s a lot to like in this film, but none of it really brings you to a satisfying payoff or conclusion. Again, there are a lot of tasty ingredients, but the sauce is weak.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
Only bad guys have sex and private life I guess.
There were many things that were ruining the quality of the movie in whole. The first half of the movie there is just nothing to hold on to and nothing that would really test and wake up your senses and crash you to the chair. But I have to say after his “little visit” in the Chicago P.D. the storytelling started receiving on its depth. Ending is also not quite convincing. Just can’t get of that feeling that this one won’t leave any deeper remark.
Camera work-big thumbs up!
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
A crime drama released in the midst of a summer of epic and intense action movies, Public Enemies can hold its own when compared to other crime dramas released.
The cinematography gives the film a gritty and sort of drawn feel to it. While not “cartoony”, it’s still makes the watcher wonder if it’s animated or actually shot.
I plan on adding it to my collection. When you see it, don’t be expecting “Star Trek”, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, or “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” or you will be HIGHLY disappointed. This is NOT a grab-you-by-the-seat-of-your-pants film.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
I think I like the Dillinger movie from 1945 with Lawrence Tierney better for being shorter and to the point. The filmmakers give more time for Depp to brood and seduce as Dillinger, but Depp didn’t bring a unique performance to this role like I expected of him. The filmmakers try to deepen the relationship between Dillinger and his moll, Billie. However, except for the cruel interrogation scene near the end where she remains loyal and the fact that she isn’t the one to make a deal for the night of the Biograph Theater, there’s nothing really different here. And Cotillard still needs to work on her English. Speaking her dialog limited her performance. This version gives some specific faces to the authorities trying to apprehend the Dillinger gang. Bale wasn’t hugely impressive as Melvin Purvis and there wasn’t much separating this character from Batman. I had hoped to see more variety from this actor who I have grown to like. J. Edgar Hoover as played by Crudup actually showed more personality in his controlling political aspirations. Sadly Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd is killed very early in the movie. It was funny how different he looked with slightly longer hair. For getting such high billing and having such popularity with the younger movie goers, I wish I could have seen what he could do with the role. And the fact that they kill him off so early is a completely inaccurate bit of history. Pretty Boy Floyd was a regular member of Dillinger’s gang and didn’t die till after Dillinger. So why make this big change to history? Then there is Graham as Baby Face Nelson, a wild loose cannon, who Dillinger doesn’t know as well and is hesitant to work with because he is so unpredictable. He makes you want to watch him though. The only other one of Dillinger’s gang who stood out to me was Clarke as Red. He’s Dillinger’s right hand man and seems to have been working with him the longest.
The details of the heists and breakouts Dillinger pulls off are slightly different but basically the same as portrayed in the 40’s version I’ve seen. There are some obviously fabricated moments like Dillinger boldly walking into the offices of the FBI division investigating him. They can’t recognize him because he’s changed his look (really?!). But then I still love that he sees Manhattan Melodrama at the Biograph Theater. I thought that the filmmakers handle this event better than the 40’s Dillinger movie in building suspense. I’ve seen MM from my Oscars list though it has been a while and I don’t remember it really well. They use more clips from this film to show the parallels and increase the tension. It’s such a tragically poetic end to Dillinger’s life. And I would rather it had ended there.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
Ugh. 1/3 of the shots were excruciatingly awful. I get that Mann shot digital to get the visuals to seem immediate as though you were really there, but he made it look like a reenactment shot on a handycam. Horrid.
The story took quite a while to get going but there are some great scenes and Mann is still at the top of his game with choreographing action sequences. The gun fight in the woods is breathtaking.
Pity about the crap visuals.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
The obvious glaring flaw in Michael Mann’s otherwise handsomely-crafted period crime drama is the low-quality digital photography which gives the entire film a cheap, rushed quality that is a constant distraction. Johnny Depp is great as always, and he’s backed by a strong supporting cast – though Marion Cotillard is a bit stilted. The story is often awkwardly paced and plotted, but Mann still manages to craft a number of excellent suspense and action scenes. Despite some strong moments, this one is still something of a disappointment coming from Michael Mann.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
I am a complete sucker for any film set in the 1930’s concerning Gangsters, G-Men, and Molls—so, it is no surprise that I now rank this extremely well-made and perfectly acted film among my favorites.
Before the film’s release, I have to admit that I wasn’t convinced that Mann’s choice to shoot the film digitally was the right one. But, upon seeing the final results—-I knew he had chosen wisely. Because of the digital cinematography the film has a truly fresh, ultra-real feel that puts the viewer right in the middle of the events. Great stuff!
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
There’s this thing called clout that allows certain Hollywood types to be able to get people like Shawn Hatosy and Leelee Sobieski in their films for five-minute throwaway roles. It also gets them the ability to have carte blanche on a script that others may not. I think Michael Mann is one of the good ones; even subpar fare like Miami Vice still seemed to contain what could have been a good film, hidden inside, just a few more edits away. So, when trailers for Public Enemies started dropping, with two stalwarts in Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, I was ready for a return to form. Unfortunately that is not what showed on screen. Instead, Mann once more seems to have overexerted himself by producing a bloated product with too many dead areas, virtually filming a vanity piece for Depp rather than a truly captivating tale. Comparisons to Ridley Scott’s American Gangster kept entering the back of my mind, both derivative tales that try to be more than they are—perfectly adequate does not a classic make. John Dillinger is definitely an intriguing figure, a bank robber with a heart—sort of—but with a runtime over two hours, how often can we watch him rob a bank, risk his life, and get captured? The repetition becomes too much.
It’s a shame because, once again, there is a lot to like here. I feel Mann needs to step back and reevaluate his movies, taking a fresh look and seeing how he can excise all the superfluous fluff preventing the work from truly shining. The opening scene is fantastic. You assume it will begin with a bang, but in a bank, not at a jail during broad daylight. With the tone set and a rapid pace, I was ready for a thrill ride. However, the following scenes soon brought the speed down to the level it would stay for the duration. His chauvinism and unceasing confidence win over thieves everywhere as well as the heart of Frechette; it sadly did not win me over. Depp is great as Dillinger; the question becomes whether the character itself deserved such an epic tale. Giovanni Ribisi’s crook arrives early on with a proposition of a big score for retirement, why must we have over an hour of filler before finally getting back to that plan? Maybe Mann felt we needed to see Dillinger’s hubristic ways slowly destroy him, but starting the film without backstory and throwing us directly into the action is a measured choice, we as an audience expect to see his fall, we have no allusions that he will survive and ride out into the sunset. Starting so late in his “career” tells us the end is nigh, there is no need to prolong it.
And then there is Bale. Again, like Scott’s longwinded opus of crime with Russell Crowe’s detective role, while the character of Melvin Purvis may be the more interesting of the two, he is second fiddle at every turn. We all know the kind of badass Dillinger was, as well as his demise, but what about Purvis’ conflicted mind when it came to killing rather than catching the criminals he hunted; what about the events that would ultimately lead to his own suicide? Bale is pushed to the background, utilized only as a villain to Depp’s actual villainy. His shining moment comes with his ending Pretty Boy Floyd’s, (I thought that was Channing Tatum, and it is), reign of crime—the first scene with him—a moment with absolutely nothing to do with Dillinger. The moments with he and Billy Crudup’s J. Edgar Hoover fall flat, touching upon the bureaucracy that was letting these miscreants run free on the streets, but never approached the intrigue that the bad guys had. The jailbirds are just fun to watch as well as being a who’s who of familiar faces. Even Stephen Dorff came out of obscurity to be involved. And, actually, he was pretty entertaining.
I guess my main gripe is in the title—Public Enemies. Well, where are the stories of everyone else? Okay, Floyd and Baby Face Nelson are included, but to what end? The first is shown only at his death and the other only as a loose cannon shooting anything in his path, (although I did enjoy Stephen Graham while eating dinner and being questioned in his hotel room). Mann should have called the film Dillinger and just made it into a biopic rather than pretending it was this huge crime drama about America’s most wanted during the Great Depression. The film is at its best when Depp is on screen, especially opposite the wonderful Marion Cotillard who shows what got her the Oscar in 2008. It may be a thankless role, playing the waif, but she instills in Frechette strength of character, a longing for honesty even though she has involved herself with a bank robber. Depp shines in his relationships with cohorts and friends, never wanting to let any of them down … ever. Right from the start we see this, we see his eyes once a member of the jailbreak takes it upon himself to bludgeon a guard. There was not supposed to be any bloodshed and that incident ultimately leads to a friend’s death, something unacceptable to him.
Amidst the long-windedness and repetitive story structure lie some pretty impressive art direction and an aesthetic that portrays the 1930s to perfection. It also boasts a successful turn from Depp, showing the man beneath the legend. His performance shows the notoriety he sought—it wasn’t about killing or the rush of danger—he just really loved the spotlight of celebrity. His image was what mattered most, to the point where he allowed customers at the banks he robbed to keep their money. While not anywhere near a Robin Hood figure, he kept his spoils for himself; there really wasn’t any malice in Dillinger, unless it was towards the police shooting bullets his way. Mann did a great job showing how America took to this man, not a murderer, but a showman, watching it all play out with wonderment rather than fear. Scenes of him holding a press conference upon his capture and seeing the awe in Emilie de Ravin’s face when she is taken hostage express the glamour I believe Mann strived for. It’s just a shame that the story surrounding that image was so dull to sit through otherwise.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.