Public Enemies Reviews
John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is a prison escapee and charismatic bank robber whose lightning raids and Robin Hood style values made him a folk hero too much of the 1930's downtrodden public.
With the cocky belief that everyone else exists exclusively because he does, Dillinger becomes the centre of gravity. However, through all his Bravado the always in control Dillinger falls obsessively in love for a half French/half Indian but completely naive cloak checker Evelyn "Billie" Frechette (Marion Cotillard).
Although Dillinger's initial demands for Billie's affections are rebuffed, his alluring pull and charming declaration of "I like baseball, movies, good clothes, whiskey, fast cars... and you. What else you need to know?" eventually makes Billie his.
The pair and Dillinger's gang safely continue their escapades due to the polite protection of hostages and values to only steal the banks money aid in the public at larges' willingness to provide asylum and hinders the police's effort
When the gang's exuberant state line crossing exploits escalate them to the status of cult legends, Dillinger quickly becomes the prime target for the fledgling Bureau of Investigation headed by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) and its top agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale).
The inclusion of sociopathic and unpredictable Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) makes Hoover's highly administrative driven bureau desperate for their apprehension. Hoover devises a plan to recruit real strong arm gun-slinging lawmen from Arizona under the guise of aiding their efforts in the pursuit to elevate the bureau into a national police force leading to the birth of the FBI.
Director Michael Mann's faithful recreation of the 1930's settings is fraught by his obsession with digital camerawork. Unlike celluloid, HD video isn't flattering or forgiving, and the abundance of superfluous details captured shows every physical and cinematic flaw.
Mann's passion and preoccupation for surface texture whilst utilising handheld cameras cerebrally over stimulates viewers. The headache of 'Shaking camera syndrome' and need to explore the 'gritty look' ultimately detracts not enhances the images which seem lost in translation in relation to the era of the piece.
Dillinger's self-created folk hero status is effortlessly recreated by Depp's graceful, cheeky and in-love-with-his-own-legend portrayal. Depp's understated and undeniable magnetism carries Christian Bales somewhat less wooden but still one-dimensional Wile E. Coyote-eskque chilling pursuer Melvin Pervis.
One of Mann's main flaws is his apparent disregard for the need of character background and exploration. Although his painstakingly thorough research for visual integrity is admirable and shooting on location at the original site of the Little Bohemia Lodge and the Crown Point jail is wonderfully authentic, his attention to the human side leaves the film lacking that true emotional connection.
Mann is highly particular about presenting particular relationship styles. Dillinger and Billie are a 'him' and 'her' not a 'them', they are never portrayed as a couple and the story is centralised around their need for each other not their love for each other. For her vulnerability she needs protection and to receive affirmation of his invincibility he needs to protect. The actors portray this tone perfectly, however to the viewer it seem a little hollow.
From the onset it looked as thought it was going to be an ensemble supporting cast including Stephen Dorff, Channing Tatum, David Wenham as well as a brief cameo from Clarke Gable (clipped from Manhattan Melodrama). Sadly however, Depp and Bale have no connection and their onscreen hero and villain personas share very little screen time.
One great scene that due to its content must be one of those fictional Hollywood gems finds Dillinger casually strolling into the Bureau's half empty Anti-Dillinger office and brazenly wonders around looking at pinned up photo's and documents about his fallen and apprehended gang members, he even has the galls to ask a cop who just won the baseball game on the radio.
Verdict: For all his research efforts, Mann's most recent time piece lacks both visual and historical cohesion. This film is carried squarely on the back of its actors and its time frame, however with that in mind, it works. The overconfident swaggering Dillinger takes audiences hostage and commands complete attention and with Depp holding the gun, I'm in.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 07/08/2009
Ok, if nothing better to do.