Old 07-11-2009, 03:22 PM
Michael Mann's Public Enemies

Public Enemies (2009)

Michael Mann is well-known for making great dramas including "The Insider" and "Collateral," though he has also had his share of disappointments as well, like the mess that was "Miami Vice." While watching his latest film, "Public Enemies," I kept trying to figure out why I was having such a hard time getting into it. It seemed like something was missing or wanting, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

The film starts as notorious 30s gangster John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is helping break some of his pals out of jail. It doesn't take us very long to discover what career path he's chosen as not long after the jailbreak, Dillinger and his associates hold up a bank. We never really see him spend any of this money though, it's more so the fact that when he wants something, he goes after it. Such is the case when he meets Billie Frechette (Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard). He soon claims her as his girl as he continues his crime spree.

Hot on Dillinger's trail is a Bureau agent, Melvin Pervis (Christian Bale), who has recently been made head of the Chicago branch by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). Using all of his training, Pervis must somehow find a way to outsmart Dillinger, who always seems to be able to slip away from the crime scene, and even ambushes, for that matter.

Most people going into this movie will probably already know the name of John Dillinger and that he was a bank robber. The biggest problem with the film is that that's all it seems to know about him too. It doesn't feel the need to tell us anything more about him or the way he lived, just that he loved to rob banks and managed to get out of more than one sticky situation.

This could have just been a personal choice by the screenwriters (Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, and Ann Biderman), but if they weren't going to tell us anything that we didn't already know, what was the point of making the film in the first place? I'm not saying it's a bad film at all, it at least tells this part of his life fairly well, it's just that there was room for so much more.

There aren't really any faults with the performances. Depp makes an excellent Dillinger and slips into the role quite well. He pulls no punches when it comes to showing how violent a man Dillinger was. Bale gives a performance filled with determination for capturing the notorious criminal, almost as if it were his personal mission in life. Marion Cotillard is charming as Dillinger's love interest, who at first plays hard-to-get, but then falls for him and his dangerous ways.

Even though Depp and Cotillard deliver good performances, it becomes a funny thing to watch as they don't really have much chemistry together. The romance between them is never really believable and even feels platonic in a way. When they first meet, their relationship feels forced and rushed along, making it feel like we arrive too quickly at the scenes where they are willing to do anything for each other.

On the up side, no expense was spared in bringing the period to life with the vintage automobiles, clothing, and the rest of the outstanding production design. Sets were elaborately decorated to give them a classic 30s look. The second-to-last scene stands out in particular as the filmmakers went to a lot of trouble to recreate the Biograph Theater (and the surrounding area) playing an old Clark Gable movie, "Manhattan Melodrama."

It certainly can't be said that "Public Enemies" is lacking in its looks, but it is unfortunately lacking in any new insights into Dillinger. This is probably the main reason why I found it difficult to get engaged in the film. In a film about a criminal who became a sort of public hero, it falls back on a repetitive story that has him helping in a jail escape, robbing a bank, finding time for an awkward relationship, robbing more banks, escaping another jail, eventually leading up to the part that most people might not specifically know about. But even then, it ends on the note of a documentary that isn't very informative. 2.5/4 stars.
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Old 07-12-2009, 01:46 AM
I can't say it was a total piece of shit, but... unfortunately Mann dropped the ball on this one- big time.

Historically this movie was way off- Purvis wasn't assigned to the case til much later in Dillinger's career, Dillinger was not the last to die in his gang and his girl was never mistreated (beaten) for info by the FBI. I got the feeling that Mann was going for a romanticized docu-drama, like the ones on the Lifetime Network. You know, take historical figures and make their lives like a soap opera...

Also, IMO- the real story here was probably the Purvis-Hoover connection... and the mystery surrounding the death/suicide of Purvis. If you make a movie and spend so much time and energy on facts, then go for more than "how it looked at the time"- try a little less fiction and study your characters a little more too.

This film could have been so much more, and I agree totally with Hal2001, no chemistry between the Romeo and Juliet angle this film was going for.

I give it 2 out of five stars... only for the actors involved.
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Old 07-12-2009, 02:23 AM
Well, after the debacle that was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I was hoping that Michael Mann's latest effort would get this pretty decent summer movie lineup back on track. Mann has a pretty damn good track record, with only Miami Vice being the only movie I didn't really truly dig (although I'm defintiely going to give it another shot). So, after seeing this flick last night at the midnight showing, I'm happy to say that Mann is back on track, and so is the summer movie season.

Public Enemies can probably be best described as Heat, but in the Great Depression. It follows the Cops and Robbers theme that made Mann's previous work one of my favorite movies of all time. It revolves around the true life, albeit with some liberties for the facts, story of John Dillinger, a robber who was known for stealing the bank's money, but never the people who he held hostage. Now, while this movie isn't as deep with the side characters as Mann's Heat, but Depp and Christian bale still bring enough intensity and charm to keep me entertained.

Depp plays Dillinger, a man who is taking life by the horns and the moment. He doesn't look to the past or the future, just the now. He has his gang, he begins to fall for the girl by the name of Billie (Marion Cotillard), and thinks no one can touch him. To be honest, thats the impression that I got from this movie, that it was in the moment. The movie opens with a prison break that is a very satisfying opening to the movie, but i can see people having a problem with who is who until after a while. However, I took it in stride and went along with whatever Dillinger was doing.

For Bale, he plays Melvin Purvis, the agent appointed by head of FBI J. Edgar Hoover (played great with an air of arrogance by billy Crudup), to lead the war against Dillinger and his gang. The movie doesn't really revolve around Purvis's personal life,only his job at hand. It's similar towards Pacino's character in heat, only slightly more tragic. Bale brings a focused performance, being the agent who must contend with the scrutinizing Hoover to get the job done, and the paths that he has to go in order to assure the capture of Dillinger. There is no monologue that truly captures what Bale's Purvis is thinking at the moment, like Pacino's detective in Heat, but Bale definitely shows us through his quiet demeanor and mannerisms what he is slowly becoming.

Now, it wouldn't be a Mann movie without some cool realistic shootout scenes, and Mann has some smaller scenes that definitely deliver, but there is one that occurs that definitely is up there with Heat's shootout in the streets. There is no shaky camera bullshit, just a steady camera to show the sweet action that is occurring in the scene. It also helps that the gunfights feel realistic, not that there is a problem for unrealistic gunfights a la Hard Bolied. I just like the way Mann presents them in his way: raw, gritty, and in your face.

Any hiccups for this flick? Like I said, the movie mostly focuses on Depp and Bale, so most people may be confused on some underutilized side characters. Some people may find it hard to distinguish who is who, and what is happening. It got me confused at points, but nothing to really take me out of the movie. Also, people may have a problem with the way the film was shot (Mann used HD digital cameras for the film),but it certainly wasn't as bad as Miami Vice.

So, all in all, Mann created another great crime drama with Public Enemies. The actors were on the ball, the action was intense, and the story, while lacking in the details, still great in showing the exploits of Dillinger's life. It was defintiely the medicine I needed after being disappointed with the Transformer sequel.

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Old 12-07-2009, 11:03 PM
My review is now available in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

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Old 02-18-2010, 03:51 PM
I love gangster movies like this, and alot of them are booed by people for being boring, I usually dont think so, but this film was borefest.....I couldn't make it through half of the movie.
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