7/7/09

Public Enemies (2009)

Johnny Depp (Dillinger), Christian Bale (Melvin Purvis), Billy Crudup (Hoover), Marion Cotillard (Billie Frechette)

Directed by Michael Mann (Heat)

Summary: The Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s.

Keven and I went to see this with our friends Richard and Karen, which has been how we've been seeing most films this summer. Babysitter. Friends. Movie. Tiki bar. Good times!

I don't know what I was expecting from this, but perhaps my amorphous expectations were too high. I've only truly enjoyed one Michael Mann film, which was The Last of the Mohicans--and even that one has some flaws. Overall, he creates big movies that don't necessarily feel as big as they're billed to be. Heat was like that. And so was Public Enemies. It seemed like it could be big--big characters, big action, big emotion. But I didn't get a sense of any of that.

There is a scene in Heat when Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro sit down in a café and have a five minute war of words. A verbal chess match. A machismo face-off! It's the only time in the film when crime-stopper and criminal share screen time. Public Enemies repeated that same stylistic choice, with Christian Bale's FBI agent, Purvis, sharing about five minutes of screen time with Johnny Depp's jailed Dillinger. Instead of being wowed, I thought, "I've seen this before."

And then there was the romance, which didn't fit and didn't work. It seemed forced. I never believed that she was his one and only (she wasn't), nor did I get the feeling that he would shrivel up and die without her. Without that sense of potential loss, the entire relationship they based the film on was hollow. When compared to two classic "together in crime" films, namely Bonnie and Clyde (based on history; unhappy ending) and True Romance (fictional; happy ending), Public Enemies simply came up lacking. If you're going to do a crime romance film, it needs to live up to its predecessors or risk falling flat.

Christian Bale's performance was much more subtle than he's been giving of late. I truly got the sense that he was having difficulties with some of the decisions Hoover and the FBI were making. Johnny Depp was as deliciously Johnny Depp as always. When some of the machine gun battles and vintage car getaways got a little bit long, I realized it was because I hadn't had a dose of Depp in several minutes. (And because the film would've benefited from an aggressive 20 minutes cut from its run-time.) He was the heart and soul of this picture, but it wasn't enough.

A decent movie, overall. But in the summer when we've already seen some very good pictures, "decent" wasn't good enough.

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