Saturday, July 04, 2009

Public Enemies (***)

Public Enemies. 143 mins. R. Directed by Michael Mann. Written by Ronan Bennett and Michael Mann & Ann Biderman. Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, and Billy Crudup.

Public Enemies is a good movie that falls far short of greatness, leaving a trail of missed opportunities in its wake. If I could liken it to another recent movie, I'd say American Gangster. That was another star-studded film with an A-list director, compelling subject matter, and high potential, but one that ultimately left its audience cold and disappointed. Here, in telling the tale of John Dillinger's bank robberies and jail escapes, co-writer and director Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral) focuses too much on Dillinger's romantic relationship with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard, with an inconsistent and distracting "American" accent). The movie hints at it, but I would have much preferred a 1930s take on The Wire, with the main focus on the feds trying to take down the bank robbing syndicate led by Dillinger, using Dillinger only as a supporting character. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the movie is Johnny Depp's uninteresting take on the character of Dillinger. Part of the blame rests with the script, but surely an actor as innovative as Depp could have found something unique or involving in Dillinger that would make him stand out. He's downright boring here. I was more interested in Christian Bale's dogged FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, and his search for Dillinger and company. Though even there, Mann and Bale give the character short shrift in light of Purvis' real-life suicide, which the audience only learns about over the end credits. Still, there's plenty to admire in Public Enemies. The period detail is sensational, and Mann certainly knows how to stage a gunfight. There are several here, particularly a late night raid in the forest towards the end, that are worth the price of admission. Dillinger's death outside Chicago's Biograph Theater makes for a suitably suspenseful ending, and there's just something refreshing about seeing a competent adult drama in the middle of summer. The movie runs a bit long at 2.5 hours, but it's a breeze compared to sitting through the new Transformers.



At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you give WAY too much credit to this one. It takes real talent to make a gangster movie boring. So kudos to Mann on acheiving that. The movie suffocated both Depp and his female costar's acting abilities, failed to communicate the what Dillanger meant to the public during the depression, and, aside from the awesome Wisconsin shootout scene, was UNBELIEVABLY dull and boring. This single, exciting 5 minute shootout scene failed to compensate for two hours and twenty five minutes of boring and cliche script writing. What a waste.


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