Saturday, 18 July 2009

Film Review: Public Enemies

Look its Michael Mann directing another film! And look Johnny Depp is in it! And look again its Christian Bale... AGAIN... Well sounds like a good enough set up right? Those with a knowledge of previous Michael Mann films (to name a few couple; Heat and Collateral) know he’s done his share of fast paced and crime driven while heavy in drama so naturally a film set in the 1930s based on the true story of notorious bank robber John Dillinger, is like bait for this director. Well put it this way... there’s a shoot out in the opening five minutes.

While Johnny Depp is paraded as the role of John Dillinger is every preview know to Mann (ha see what I did there? Forget it), once again with have Christian Bale, fresh from the last multiple blockbuster films as the lesser known FBI agent Melvin Purvis, with the obvious stances as “public enemies” to eachother. But by no means is it all about them, at the same time we’re quickly introduced to other Dillinger cronies and of course the inevitable love interest Billie Frechette, played by Marion Cotillard. So where does this leave them? After a semi-successful prison break, Dillinger is back in town and robbing banks left and right, each in a matter of minutes while Purvis is put on the case but what appears to be a rather slow “by the book” anti-crime agency. Fast forward and we have Dillinger swaying the likes of Frechette is a rather chauvinistic manner... although we have to keep in mind that this is the 1930s and women are still push overs (and in Johnny Depp’s case still would be). Without ruining any of the plot, the film then goes into a tug of war with bank robberies and FBI leads pulled off and hindered by the opposing party leading to what is a rather unconventional climax if you didn’t know much about the real life story.

Beyond the character plot itself, we are given a vintage 1930s backdrop from both the city and country settings conveying a real old modern styled feel you’d come to expect. All the men where brown and black suits and talk fast and all the women are dressed up and buried in make-up, with crudely built cars, oddly shaped rifles and “swinging” soundtracks. Believable setting, check. Believable characters on the other hand? Many people (fangirls) came to see Depp, the actor who while is painted by some (fangirls) as a handsome front man, actually can and has acted well and in all seriousness (fangirls aside) he pulls it off here. Playing a real life person is always tricky, more so if that person has historical visual and audio recordings, but its safe to say that Depp has adjusted his voice accordingly to the character and setting, being well mannered but cocky and a hard ball at times, with the ability to show emotion where its needed, and since its a Mann film its usually when someone has been shot dead. His other cronies are more two dimensional but interesting enough characters in their own right. For example there’s John (again?) “Red” Hamilton, a loyal co-robber and all round hard man, a long with Baby Face Nelson who to put it bluntly is a psychopath who would shot a fleeing civilian just because he not shooting at anything else and thus also making him the screw up! In the case of Billie Frechette on the other hand, you’d think the love interest would be tacked on but no, its kept in moderation and you can feel sympathy for this woman to an extent, particularly towards the end, but is sadly less memorable than the rest of the cast. In terms of shoot outs, well there’s not much to say, they’re hard to screw up in a mainstream film by an established director in the field. While there’s a good ratio of action and drama, one instance in the first half however seems dragged out. While not a total complaint, it breaks flow and fragments what can be a complex plot line if you as such as miss three minutes.

Now on to Christian Bale... He’s become a fickle actor to me since the films that put him on the map, like American Psycho being the best example for this one, but now I’m starting to think he’s coming down with “Nicholas Cage Syndrome”. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, like Nicholas Cage once was, Bale seems to be appearing in an awful lot of films recently (more so if you watch the independent), Terminator Salvation only being roughly a mouth old, if even that. As a result, he’s become so established its hard to dive into the story if you can only see Bale and not the character he’s playing. Someone like Depp on the other hand, as well known as he is at least there’s space between his roles. But even if you haven’t seen those other Bale films, there’s another issue I have. Now I know its good for films to avoid being so black and white in characterization but when everyone is getting shot on a regular basis, who’s side am I supposed to be on? While there’s the obvious fact Dillinger and co are bank robbers, the law is not particularly within the law itself at times, with blackmail and beating women coming into an equation at one point. For me this adds realism and no doubt prevents it becoming a cliche case of cops and robbers but being objective about it, bleak could be another description for certain people... although in my view those are the people who shouldn’t be watching this sort of film, Johnny Depp or not...

Public Enemies is one of the better Michael Mann films and stands on its own in the midst of a summer blockbuster onslaught, with the setting providing its unique selling point. If you came expecting a series of violent shoot outs, you won’t be disappointed. If you came for the thrilling plot, you won’t be disappointed. And if you came for Johnny Depp, you won’t be disappointed...

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