Public Enemies

Posted on July 1, 2009. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while and, despite reading a bad reivew, was determined to see it on the day it came out.  As it turns out, I caught a preview 2 days early. 🙂

Public Enemies is effectively a typical ’30s gangster movie, but with the added bonus of it being a true story (and Johnny Depp).  Depp does brilliantly as the lovebale bad guy while Christian Bale is stiff, but I think intentionally so.  The more time he spends in Hollywood, the less he seems to act, but as the intense and single minded Melvin Purvis, the Keanu Reeves approach to acting works.

The review I read criticised Michael Mann’s use of handheld cameras, and on this at least he had a point.  The extreme close ups and shaky photography during most of the shoot outs can be hard to watch, simply because your eyes can’t keep up, but I can see what Mann was going for.  The Peep Show style of first person photography is a good idea, but the action is just too fast, especially in the opening scene when you’re still trying to work out who’s who.  I reckon on the DVD release it’ll actually come across better because the screen wont be as big.  Luckily, the handhelds don’t make up the majority of the film, so you get a chance to focus, but a lot of it does seem to be shot either from Depp’s shoulder or on a camera mounted to his face!

Other than that I have no criticisms for the film.  It’s not going straight into The List, but I would definitely watch it again and recommend it to all of you.  The plot moves at a good pace, and while none of the characters bar Dillinger are particularly developed, they don’t feel empty.  Dillinger himself is brilliantly characterised, with a lot of help from Depp, so that you find yourself really rooting for the bad guy, no matter how many FBI agents he shoots.  The one moment where the front drops and the reality of his crumbling prospects dawns on him is backed by a magnificent score (Elliot Goldenthal) and features (I think) the first time we see Depp cry on screen.  Goldenthal’s score, sparingly used, is always effective, emphasising the two most poignant scenes with sweeping orchestra while upbeat Jazz and guitar riffs accompany the bank heists.

The script may not be groundbreaking, but a couple of lines raised a chuckle and they manage to steer clear of steriotypical wiseguy dialogue.  Marion Cottilard also plays well as Dillinger’s muse Billie, a part I fear was written in for Hollywood but which actually gives a crucial motivation to some of the more daring of Dillinger’s exploits.  There are also some brilliant moments to look out for, in particular: the cinema, the cloakroom and the FBI office.

A trip to the hallowed pages of Wiki filled me in on the real man.  The film seems to have captured the essence of Dillinger, particularly his reputation as the modern Robin Hood.  The details aren’t too bad either, which is impressive.  They even allow the conspiricists to argue about whether Dillinger actually died (I’d like to believe not, but logic tells me he did.)

So, Mann has managed to make a film based on historical events which pretty much tells the truth while at the same time having enough action and adventure to fill the box office.  It’s not exactly a high octance thriller, but Depp’s Dillinger is so engaging, and 30s America is just one of those time periods that will never fail to draw a crowd.

If you want to escape the heat for a bit and relax in an air conditioned cinema, I can’t think of a better way to spend the time than with Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, some very snappy suits and a few machine guns. 😉

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