Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Public Enemies Review

Acclaimed director Michael Mann, whose credits include The Insider, Collateral and my personal favorite Heat, brings to life the true story of depression-era bank robber John Dillinger, played by one of my favorite actors ever, Johnny Depp. Dillinger was America's first Public Enemy No. 1. This crime drama is based on the best-selling book of the same title by Bryan Burrough. This movie is a series of disjointed bank robberies, prison breakouts, car chases and machine-gun shootouts.

Mann's attempt to be cutting edge just doesn't work in this period piece. The picture quality lacks the crisp visual clarity. I’m assuming Mann wanted a glossy, old-fashioned look to his film, but to me, it just looked dull and washed-out. The nighttime sequences are fuzzy and the daylight scenes are dim and gray. The more intimate images – including the many tight close ups – almost look as if they had been captured by a camera phone. Plus after spending time with these characters, you never really get to know anything about them - almost as if Mann was rushing the storyline, which is odd considering the movie is almost 2 ½ hours.

The love affair between Dillinger and Billie Frechette (Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard) was sweet and sassy in some parts, like when John says to Billie “I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars... and you. What else you need to know?” (There was a round of applause in the theater following that line.) However, their relationship never goes below the surface to reveal the feelings behind the mutual attraction. We get to see them roll around in bed for a few minutes and see Dillinger make promises about providing Billie with a new and exciting life. They dance to the song "Bye Bye Blackbird," which is played repeatedly throughout the movie, but you never quite feel the passion that you so desperately need in order feel their undying devotion and love.

However, the movie did have some strengths. The sound, the period clothing, the vintage automobiles, and the soundtrack were all top-notch. Depp's performance is less flashy than most of what he's done in years past, proving he's not just an oddball. If anyone doubted, he can do “normal” things, as well. One of my favorite scenes is when Depp is driving alone and bursts into tears after witnessing the cops take away his girl. I truly felt the wretched pain he was going through. That to me is what I call great acting! You can also see in his portrayal of Dillinger why people liked the outlaw. He had a very charismatic personality. (However, we still don't know anything about Dillinger's motives, influences, or background.) And it has to be said, it seriously blows my mind that Depp can sport a perv-stache and still look incredibly gorgeous. Very few actors can claim that feat.

So much of this gangster drama is so good, fun and entertaining, and yet the rest wasn’t. The movie holds some interest with its title (which never appears until after all the credits have rolled), but it could have been so much better had it developed a rooting interest for either the bad guys or the good guys. All in all this movie is exactly what I was expecting – mediocre at best. But let’s be honest, the real reason this movie peeked my interest was for my love of Johnny Depp – one of the most talented and celebrated actors of his time.




Groverfam said...

well put! I haven't seen it- won't see it and yet you have made me intrigued. I actually want to read a book about dilinger. I would have only seen it for johnny depp too

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