Posts Tagged ‘1930’s’

Review: ‘Public Enemies’

July 21, 2009

There are a few directors whose films, regardless of buzz, I will go see in the theater: Tim Burton; Christpoher Nolan; M. Night Shyamalan; JJ Abrams. Whether or not I like their latest film, I want to see for myself what these directors have done. It’s a short list, and even some of my favorite directors are noticeably absent (Woody Allen being the biggest omission). But there is one director that I didn’t realize I have seen all his movies in the theater (barring one) since 1992: Michael Mann.

After seeing Public Enemies, I went over to IMDb.com to see what films he had directed. Last of the Mohicans. Heat. The Insider. Ali. Miami Vice. I had seen all of these in the theater. Collateral was the only one I hadn’t. (I saw it on DVD, and now desperately wished I had seen it in the theater. It’s the one movie that I can honestly say had me on the edge of my sofa seat.)

Mann’s films brim with the right amount of intelligence and testosterone, and Public Enemies is no exception. And while Public Enemies wasn’t a knock-your-socks off action film, it is a solid entry–and better than 2006’s Miami Vice–in the Michael Mann canon.

Courtesy IMPAwards.com

Courtesy IMPAwards.com

What’s it about? The year is 1933. John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his band of…bandits steal from the rich and give to themselves. Even when he gets caught, Dillinger has the right connections (and amount of chutzpah) to escape. After breaking free from jail or robbing a bank, Dillinger will cross state lines, making it hard for state police to do anything.

The FBI is getting under way, doing what local law enforcement can’t do: catch guys like Dillinger. J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), director of the FBI, assigns Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to head the Chicago office with one goal: catch guys like Dillinger.

At a speakeasy in Chicago, Dillinger meets the Billie Frechette (Oscar winner Marion Cotilard), a half French-half Native American woman. The attraction is instant, and Dillinger, a man who gets what he wants, begins a whirlwind romance with Billie.

Eventually Purvis and his men, after numerous close calls with Dillinger, use Billie to get to him. It is when Billie is in FBI custody–and the fact that his bank-robbing skills are no longer appreciated by other criminals with bigger and broader illegal operations–that Dillinger’s days are numbered.

What’s good about it? Depp, as always, gives a charismatic performance as Dillinger. And Cotillard gives a devastating performance in what could have been a throwaway part. One sequence in particular–when she is interrogated by the FBI–is heartbreaking.

Colleen Atwood’s costumes are outstanding. (There’s at least one Oscar nomination right there).

I personally like Mann’s directorial style, which usually entails using digital hand-held cameras. It gives the film a sense of immediacy. Often times period pieces are romanticized or glamorized. But Mann gives the 1930’s a shot of adrenaline rarely seen.

What’s bad about it? I hate to say it, but Christian Bale’s quickly becoming Hollywood’s top second banana. After a ho-hum performance in Terminator Salvation (in which Sam Huntington stole the show from him), Bale is once again overshadowed by his costar.

The film tries to say a lot about celebrity, crime and the ethics of crime fighting. But even at a running time of 140 minutes, it comes up a little short. It feels as if some scenes to flesh out character got omitted to keep studio execs happy. Perhaps there might be a directors cut when it comes out on DVD?…

Perfect for: Depp fans, action fans, history buffs.