July 10, 2009

Public Enemies

A technically proficient but soulfully deficient gangster movie, from the kingpin of gun battles, Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice). Talk about great gun battles- Mann truly knows how to stage a shootout, this time with tommy guns, single-action rifles, and shotguns. The live effects and sound design are both superior.publicenemies
The casting is almost all fantastic- lots of doughy white 1930s faces with bad skin and sweaty necks: David Wenham, Stephen Dorff, and Giovanni Ribisi are fellow gangsters; Academy-Award winner Marion Cotillard succeeds in an underwritten, thankless role as Dillinger's moll; Christian Bale is fine as Melvin Purvis, the only G-Man with a soul; Billy Crudup looks nothing like J. Edgar Hoover, and he puts on a ridiculous Jimmy Cagney voice, as if all men in the 1930s talk like that? I really enjoyed a brief appearance by veteran character actor (and three-time Michael Mann alumnus) Stephen Lang.
It wouldn't be too hard to turn John Dillinger's last year of bankrobbing and police-fleeing into a metaphor: escaping the miseries of the Great Depression, making a better life away from a brutal childhood, innocent girlfriend = redemption from sin? Take your pick. Unfortunately, we aren't given much of a reason why we should care whether Dillinger makes that Last Big Score or not. Johnny Depp, who just turned 46 (!!), looks about ten years younger, as the charming, level-headed, and well-dressed Dillinger. We understand that Dillinger has spent over ten years in prison, and his childhood was brutal, but that makes him no more than a cliche ex-con. We need more from Depp, and the script, to care about him like he was a real person.
Mann goes out of his way to illustrate the changing times in organized crime and law enforcement, illustrating the proto-FBI's incompetence with vigor. J. Edgar Hoover's civil liberty-bending tactics feel very post-Patriot Act.
Mann's digital video camerawork is mostly superior, with no compromise compared to 35mm film, except in a few low-light scenes, where the graininess is distracting and unacceptable.(At the Somerville Theater with Emily, Sarah, Amy, and Adam)