It was with high expectations that I set out to see how Michael Mann (of Thief, HEAT and Collateral fame) would tell the tale of ‘Public Enemy’ John Dillinger and his would be captor Melvin Purvis. Due to the impressive outcomes of his previous efforts, I’ve come to like Mann’s style and was anxious to see this film, but I did have some doubts based solely on the look of the trailer. My fiance and I walked into the theater expecting to be astounded…and the result was as follows:
PREMISE: Great Depression era bank robber John Dillinger is pursued by J. Edgar Hoover and special agent Melvin Purvis (recently celebrated for bringing down Pretty Boy Floyd). Dillinger, using all his wits, charisma, hide-outs and resources, eludes capture on numerous accounts in a “cat and mouse” film that closely follows Dillinger’s relationship with girlfriend Billie Frechette played by Marion Cotillard.
HIGHS: As always Johnny Depp disappears into another role making you think you were watching real life accounts of John Dillinger and his interactions with his accomplices, goons, and everyone else. Michael Mann threw so many mid to low-profile actors in (as bit parts/supporting roles) that some didn’t even get speaking line in this film. It was like everyone in the movie was some sort of quasi seasoned/semi-pro actor and it was exciting just who you would see in the next scene because you never knew who would show up. Giovanni Ribisi was a surprise because when he, like all other characters, came on screen he wasn’t really introduced, he just kind of seamlessly wound up in front of the camera and made you go, “hey its Giovanni, where did he come from?”. Also ( probably my favorite addition to this film) there was a very powerful performance which was delivered by Marion Cotillard, which I didn’t expect because I don’t know any of her work. In my opinion, she stole all the scenes that Johnny stole from everyone else. The sequence in the interrogation room just leveled me with the emotion she brought literally through the screen. Lastly I like how we just got thrown into Dillinger’s life and this wasn’t an origin story of how ‘little Johnny’ started to rob banks. It played better since it was showcasing him and his status in the very end.
LOWS: Now I am going to say first off that this film took too long to accomplish what it set out to do. Some critics call this Mann’s HEAT rewritten with a different cast but this film wasn’t even close. I felt that pacing needed to be increased to something like the level of The Untouchables or maybe Road to Perdition and maybe I unfairly knocked Public Enemies for not being either of those but I felt this film lacking a cohesion. Sure, all 3 films had their slow moments but Enemies was just generally too slow for the length of the film. Also, I was very disappointed that Hollywood’s “flavor of the year” Christian Bale, who usually gives incredibly amazing and stellar performances, just simply didn’t show up for this film. I have trouble when watching a film where a great actor, or one who plays great roles takes on a character that is less than flattering. I compare what Bale did in Public Enemies (when you think of him in films like Batman Begins, American Psycho, The Prestige) to what Orlando Bloom did when he was in Troy (after being in films where he kicks ass, like Kingdom of Heaven, and the Lord of the Rings and Pirates trilogies). And lastly but more importantly, Mann’s style or “look” of the film never sat well with me. Being shot in HD couldn’t have been a worse idea to add to the film’s production. The “realness” was too intense and I know it was supposed to make you feel like you were there but it just felt awkward and almost unprofessional or “independent film-feeling” in nature.
RULING: I’ll say flat out that I did not enjoy this movie. From the trailers (which everyone raved about) I had this sneaking feeling that the look of the film would make it awkward to watch. Kind of like some sort of British mystery movie you’d see on Bravo from the eighties. Now this may sound extremely shallow but I’m in the Architecture and Interior Design business and looks are a large part of my job so if something looks “off” to me I’m usually not interested. That said, I was willing to put my apprehensions for the visuals on hold and see if the acting really came through, but to me Depp and Cotillard (who again were equally compelling and riveting) weren’t enough. I felt that the movie worked in “parts” but not as a “sum” – especially when the movie went on too long and was a bit flat at times. Lastly, I mentioned that the “look” didn’t work for me. Now I don’t have a problem with costumes or art direction but most of the movie (especially in pivotal scenes like the cabin shoot out at the end) looked and felt like the kind of movie some high school kids would make with their “dad’s video camera”. Or better yet this looked like a film where Johnny Depp and Christian Bale were just starting out in their acting careers and got their friend to shoot it all with a hand-held camera. Maybe it’s worth another viewing but as it stands now, I just couldn’t get past that.
G-S-T Ruling: 2/5
G-S-T Seal of Approval: DENIED