Tuesday, July 07, 2009

PUBLIC ENEMIES - is that it?

Man, this movie was boring. I mean, eye-rollingly, "should I walk out?", "what should I make for dinner?" boring. And all this, despite the fact that I really like Johnny Depp and Christian Bale as actors, I really like gangster movies, and I respect Michael Mann as a director. Maybe it's the script? Maybe it's the cheap-looking, distractingly hand-held DV shooting-style? Maybe it's the fact that Michael Mann just isn't that interested in who John Dillinger really was? But this biopic of one of America's most notorious bank robbers lacks energy and drive. It just never got me by the proverbial balls and made me care.

What a shame. What better time to make a film about a folk hero who robbed the banks that were foreclosing on honest, hard-working folk at the height of the Great Depression? What better time to show the FBI abusing civil rights in its mad dash to imprison Public Enemy Number One? But Michael Mann isn't really interested in all that.

He's interested in telling the same old Michael Mann story - where real men are defined by their job and real movies are about real men who cannot, for some reason, continue in that job, and enter an existential crisis. So here's John Dillinger as the man who robs banks, never leaves a pal behind bars, and offers his coat to ladies. He isn't closed down by the Feds but, more fundamentally, by the crime syndicates who realise that bank robbery is bad for the real business of gaming rackets. Impeded from his typical modus operandi, Dillinger is forced to take work with the psychopath Babyface Nelson - a much higher stakes game.

Don't get me wrong - DV aside - this isn't a bad film. Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard all give decent performances. Stephen Graham as Babyface Nelson is actually superb. But the resulting film is, like bad schoolboy history, just one damn thing after another. I finished up not really knowing why Dillinger loved Billie or why he felt compelled to do what he did or what was going on in Melvin Purvis head. Despite a classic shoot-out sequence it lacks the momentum for an action movie. And despite the ponderous pace and period detail, it lacks the beauty and complexity of a film like THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. Which makes the movie ultimately an exercise in clever but ultimately vacuous film-making.

PUBLIC ENEMIES is on release in the USA, Canada, the UK, Greece, Denmark, France, Indonesia, Morocco, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Israel, Slovakia, South Korea, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Turkey. It opens on July 23rd in Belgium, Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore, Ukraine, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Egypt, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Iceland, Germany, Portugal, Finland, Romania, Spain and Italy.

1 comment:

  1. BillFenner196724/10/09 2:59 PM

    I agree, Bina007.

    As with Mann's previous film, Miami Vice, I almost liked Public Enemies. It ticks all the boxes in what I consider above average cinema entertainment, yet, it ends up being less than the sum of its parts. When you go back to Mann's earlier films like Manhunter, Heat and The Insider (though that's more recent) he was still able to find those small, organic, genuine moments that manage to speak volumes and yet are only mere seconds in screen time. Those are the moments that skilled filmmakers can create in order to flesh out characters and give an audience a sense of who these people really are. However, since Ali he's lost that touch. It's a great pity because he was such a magnificent voice in Hollywood.

    It's interesting that you mention Andrew Dominik's Jesse James film, which is a modern masterpiece in my opinion. There was an example of a filmmaker creating moments, some tiny, some drawn out, that managed to convey so much but with such subtlety and nuance. Also, that was a long film -- two and a half hours -- which I adored every minute of, so my boredom with Public Enemies can't be put down to its length either.

    By the way, I think the casting was amiss here too. Depp was fine and Bale was OK, I suppose, but Cotillard and Crudup especially just didn't ring true for me. Again, not their fault. Have to lay the blame at the feet of Mann again for that.