Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Public Enemies - Review

Three films in the space of five days, yes I've been a busy lad. Michael Mann has an impressive history with films and television within the crime genre, though arguably none more spectacular than the 1995 epic Heat where he placed two of the greatest actors of a generation (Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino) and paired them off against each other in possibly one of the best "cops and robbers" films ever committed to the big screen. Fast forward to 14 years later and he intends to do the same, this time with the two most consistent and versatile leading men of the past decade Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. However instead of setting the story against a contemporary backdrop of down town L.A, Mr Mann has opted for 1930s Chicago during the Great Depression documenting the rise and fall of the infamous bank robber John Dillinger (Depp).

Adapted from the works of Bryan Burrough's non-fictional tale of Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34, the story is centred around FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Bale) as he sets his sights on American gangsters Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) in an attempt to curb a rampant crime wave surging throughout the Midwest of America. One of my favourite aspects of the story was that Mann managed to make you watch this from an objective point of view, with Depp lending his charisma and class to the character of Dillinger to make him come across as a very hard man to hate, footloose and fancy free, he's a laid back individual who likes to bask in life's indulgences, yes he robbed banks and committed acts of cold violence but, in parallel to our current economic woes who could blame him? Of course as history shows the more he did it, the more his public image grew and the man became somewhat infamous, basically a Robin Hood of the Depression Era...except you know...he kept the cash. Bale in contrast is the polar opposition in his character, lives by the book of law and idealistic in his methods, believing what he is doing is genuinely the right thing to do, and again you can't criticise him for it. Both men are not necessarily good or bad in its most basic term, both show in the film that people are capable of good and bad things regardless of how true their intentions are, which is something I genuinely liked about the movie.

Though both men are excellent, Johnny Depp just nails it for myself, demonstrating a wide range of emotions from just one man, starting off cold and focused until he meets the love of his life Billie Frechette (played by the classy and gorgeous French beauty Marion Cotillard) in which he displays genuine warmth and affection and finally seeing that future for himself. Along with Miss Cotillard the supporting cast is excellent and one of the best I've seen in a film this year especially the excellent Stephen Graham as the sinister and insane Baby Face Nelson and (one of my favourite actors about) Billy Crudup's extremely impressive take on the influential J. Edgar Hoover (before all the controversy happened...). In the production department Mann effortlessly recreates 1930s Chicago to accurate effect, very much in the spirit of the 1987 film The Untouchables starring Costner, Connery and co. filmed with such elegance and beauty to make the film almost feel like you were watching a real life documentary as oppose to a fictional movie, however this came slightly at a price because at times the film sort of lost its cinematic granduer because of this and Mann missed a golden opportunity to create some epic cinematography. In true Michael Mann fashion though the violence from high speed pursuits to hotel shoot-outs was completely unrelenting and pretty full on, perhaps not entirely controversial it was however extremely fun. The score was another wonderful addition to an already classy period piece, placing a brilliant mix of country, blues and old night club show tunes into the movie to almost make you wish the film was shot in Black and White instead of standard boring old Colour in hope to recapture an era of cinema that is now lost to the archives where everything simply oozed class.

Final Thoughts
Though perhaps not the credit crunch parable some people might have been hoping for, Public Enemies is still a high charged tale for all who love their gangsters wielding classic "Tommy Guns" and robbing banks without the use of hi-tech technology but instead complete brute force. It was genuinely refreshing to see Christian Bale in a role that he actually had to act in once again as oppose to the usual grunt voice and shouty hysterics he has been doing in his high budget franchise roles as of late, proving him much better than the likes of Terminator and Batman sometimes give him credit for. This movie ultimately however belongs to Johnny Depp, with an excellent portrayal of the legendary folk hero, with some blistering chemistry that he brews with Miss Cotillard in the background to all the bank jobs he pulls, it might not win him an Oscar but on this form, frankly, who cares? Michael Mann has made an excellent period piece combined with the innovative style and filming techniques that he has brought to the genre from various films such as his Miami Vice remake and of course Heat. Whether Mann was trying to recreate the magic of a "once in a lifetime" experience such as Heat is debatable, regardless though he has managed to create possibly one of the most glorious movies to watch in 2009.


See This If You Liked...
Heat and after you see the movie you might want to check out Manhattan Melodrama (1934) starring Clark Gable (you'll know what I mean once you watch it)

Public Enemies is out in cinemas now.

1 comment:

damian said...

Production set, acting and costumes aside, I thought this was a terrible movie. The cinematography was just woeful. It was mostly ok up until the shoot out scene with baby face nelson at the cabin and then it just all went wrong from there. I dont understand why they were shooting on video when film would've shown the sets and acting in a much better light. Plus towards the end it looked like they were using Michael Manns cameraphone. I understand that it was trying to be radical but some of the lighting in the film made it look like they were actually on set, I thought the idea was to make it look like they're on location. Plus the hand-held camera made me think I was watching Cloverfield again, it shouldnt have been over done to that extent. Don't even start me on the sound production. Such a waste of good acting and good sets. Rant over.