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Non-Review Review: Public Enemies

I want to love this film. I really do. I enjoyed Miami Vice, so devoted am I to the cult of Mann and his study of the modern man lost in the world of violence and suffering. And Public Enemies has a lot going for it, it does. A fantastic cast, a better-than-fantastic lead, a solid script. On the other hand, the film is, technically speaking, a mess. And not the good kind of mess.

Don't get Christian Bale angry... He won't like you when he's angry...

Don't get Christian Bale angry... He won't like you when he's angry...

The film is, on paper at least, one of the best of the year. Johnny Depp demonstrates his raw charisma in playing a conventional lead with the same grace and dedication that we’re familiar with from his more experimental roles. His Dillinger is a fantastic creation, a man truly running on borrowed time, a man who thinks and lives for today, but knows today will soon be yesterday. The script and Depp make the character likeable, a PR savvy bank robber who inspired the larger than life tales that continue to this day – but they never lose sight of the charcter’s inherently aggressive nature. We know he’s a killer; we like him anyway.

The picture is Depp’s but he is surrounded by a more-than-capable ensemble. Christian Bale is quietly determined as Purvis. The character gets the short shrift (especially at the end), but audiences shouldn’t arrive expected a head-to-head along the lines of Heat. This film belongs to one actor; everyone else is a guest. Marion Cotillard is also great as the love of Dillinger’s life. Watch out for cameos of various young Hollywood ladies throughout the film (Emilie de Ravin and Leelee Sobieski show up), as well as small supporting roles for veteran performers. The show is well-and-truly stolen by Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover. It’s an imitation, but a sincere and whole-hearted one – with the accent to boot. While I wouldn’t consider Crudup a front runner for a nomination, he would make an ideal dark horse candidate for this year’s Best Supporting Actor race.

The script is tight. The story is as old as the hills – and if you’ve seen even one Michael Mann movie, you know how it plays out. However, the script is adapts a relatively narrow focus (it only focuses on a year of Dillinger’s life rather than offering a broad and sweeping approach) and features some fantastic dialogue. Most of delivered from Depp’s mouth.

So, that’s why it’s a very good film. Why isn’t it a brilliant film?

Frankly, Michael Mann is really one of the most talented working directors today, but he has a hubris that seems on par with Dillinger’s. Someone should have told him that High Definition was not the best way to capture the thirties and that his usual pick-and-mix soundtrack style would not compliment a period piece. Seriously, my girlfriend came out seasick. The footage looks like it was shot on a store-bought camcorder, and Mann seems to have favoured handheld recording, so there are times when it looks like the Blair Witch Dillinger. The sound quality is similarly muffled. This works well in the heated conflict scenes (of which Mann has many), but less so in the ball rooms and apartments. Sure, there is the occasional beautiful shot (there’s a lovely three or four second shot of Depp walking across the afore-mentioned ballroom), but most of it gets lost.

With focus becoming an issue, the film seems quite tiring  to the audience. What isn’t an excessive two-hour runtime suddenly seems an eternity. As I mentioned above, the film arguably captures action sequences well (it’s almost as if you’re there – you’re that petrified and confused), but most of the time it seems to border on looking like home movies. I read that Mann didn’t bother to treat the digital recording to make it look like film (as he did on his early flirtations with the format – the superb Collateral and the relatively disappointing Miami Vice), and I’m just wondering if the style of film making might better suit one of those other films. This clearly tries to be an epic, but spends most of its time looking like a DVD extra.

Not withstanding, I will revisit this film on home media. Handheld footage does look better on a smaller screen (it’s less dizzying – see Cloverfield or Quartantine for example) and maybe the film will look better on the medium it was clearly intended for. See it if you’re interested, but I can’t really recommend it if the very notion of Michael Mann directing Johnny Depp can’t excite you – rent some of his other films and come back to me.


Public Enemies is the new film from director Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral). It stars Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd, Ed Wood), Christian Bale (Batman Begins, The Prestige), Billy Crudup (Watchmen, Almost Famous), Stephen Dorff (Blade, Cecille B. Demented), Rory Cochrane (CSI: Miami, Dazed and Confused), Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose), Emilie de Ravin (Lost), Leelee Sobrieski (Road Kill, 88 Minutes) and Giovanni Ribisi (Friends, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). It was released world wide on 1st July 2009.

11 Responses

  1. […] out our own review of the film here. "Then we stopped by a Steak n Shake for a Steakburger (I love those f@!?ing things), but the […]

  2. […] seems that original blockbusters are becoming rarer and rarer. Excluding the anticipated Public Enemies, the only other non-follow-up movie released this summer is G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and […]

  3. […] that great. The real movie we’re looking forward to next weekend is Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. The king of crime dramas working with both Johnny Depp and Christian Bale on one of the most […]

  4. […] Salvation and attempt to enjoy it. If only more actors could be like his co-star in the upcoming Public Enemies. I know next to nothing about Johnny Depp, which means that everytime he reinvents himself on […]

  5. […] – Christopher Eccleston, people! On the other hand, I really hope that Michael Mann’s Public Enemies can do at least respectably, as the man generally delivers and has an amazing cast at his […]

  6. […] directed by Zach Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead) and starring Billy Crudup (The Good Sheppard, Public Enemies), Patrick Wilson (Angels in America, Lakeview Terrace), Stephen McHattie (300, A History of […]

  7. […] Man’s Mann… By Darren I have to confess I was not overly impressed with Public Enemies. In fairness, it was mostly down to the choices Mann made in filming the work – the high […]

  8. […] trailer) or they spoil too much (not sure if it’s possible to spoil a historical biopic, but Public Enemies had a trailer which ran until Dillinger escaped in Indiana, which is at least two-thirds the run […]

  9. […] I mean ‘not adolescent’) hits of the summer – represented by the much-anticipated Public Enemies – all seemed to fade away as mediocre films. It doesn’t help that the big winner of the […]

  10. […] designer brands and bedding younger men. There was a lot of hubbub surrounding the release of Public Enemies, with people suggesting the audiences would flock to a movie about bank robbers stealing from those […]

  11. […] is directed by Christopher Nolan (The Prestige, Memento). It stars Christian Bale (Batman Begins, Public Enemies), Gary Oldman (Sid and Nancy, The Fifth Element), Michael Caine (The Italian Job, Get Carter), […]

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