The gangster film presented as a psychological study on loneliness, futility and the changing world; with the internal thoughts and feelings of characters, their inadequacies and uncertainties, being suggested through sound and image. Mann introduces a new visual grammar to the American cinema; the fly on the wall made epic. The most significant "digital film" since Shunji Iwai's All About Lily Chou Chou.
A modern masterpiece full of sweeping romanticism and existential dread, and Michael Mann's best crime film since "Heat." The digital photography creates utter transparency; the impression is not that these are actors dressed up in period clothing and driving antique cars, but that we are witnessing a window into history itself. The Little Bohemia sequence must be the best shootout I've seen in the past 10 years.
The origins, developments, & purposes of the image. Life is a prison: Mann's initial thesis. But no concept is easily manageable here; counteraction abounds. Depp is Depp & Dillinger at all times. By the end, this amalgamation of man & image faces a supreme image-maker &, in a moment of absolute transcendence, fully grasps how an image relates to a society which requires forms. Figural cinema of the highest order.
Digital video affords Mann the freedom to film anything and the liberty not to film everything. Abolishing the assured bombast that has long corrupted the staging of action sequences, the camera flits between body, weapon and face with equally disengaged urgency and intimacy; in an aesthetic world of guns that spit smoke and flame whilst clouds of blood linger in the air, it is no longer sure where it ought to look.
Mann is aware that films say more of the time in which they're made than the time in which they're set. Public Enemies is a g̶a̶n̶g̶s̶t̶e̶r̶ film electrified by a modern digital aesthetic to the point that it's not a costume drama, but a piece of humanity and our innate attachment to images/symbols of ourselves. It's action, romance, and death as expressions of the collective ideas we represent. Life is image.
The first, and until now, only time that I watched Public Enemies I just plain didn't like it. Now I think it's one of Mann's masterpieces; a stylistically daring, big scoped, beautiful movie with a break-neck pace. Oh, and Johnny Depp will always, always give better performances when he doesn't have to depend or draw upon quirky or eccentric flourishes. Try this on a double feature with American Gangster
Highlight of the movie for me is Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson, that man is a goddamn chameleon. A rather simplistic, old-fashioned and Hollywoodesque screenplay clashes somewhat with Mann's detail-focused, crisp and distinctively modern directorial style, here. Not on the same level as "Miami Vice," "Blackhat" or "Collateral," but it has its moments.