Thursday, July 9, 2009

Public Enemies

Public Enemies, 2009
Dir: Michael Mann
July 8, 2009
AMC Theaters Danvers MA

The updated gangster flick can, as previously exampled, reinvigorate or simply replicate. I am not really sure what Public Enemies does. It doesn't have a whole lot of fresh life about it and it doesn't have a lot of interesting things to say. That's not to say the film was not entertaining; at points, I suppose it was. But how many times do you have to see a bank robbery? In the end, what John Dillinger's life was all about never really got across to me, though Johnny Depp thought he was a pretty cool cat.

John Dillinger robbed banks, and wouldn't take the money of the people there who were patrons. Just the banks' money. Dillinger certainly could be charming, and the aura that surrounded him during the Depression certainly helped him achieve a favorable public opinion despite being Public Enemy #1. After doing some reading, 'cause frankly the guy is interesting, it turns out that John Dillinger was a psycho killer when he had to be. Depp's performance is adequate, but leaves something to be wanting. A few bursts of anger, but nothing torrential. The Dillinger in Public Enemies is all easy smiles and clever zingers, accompanied with a "live for today" attitude that most impulsive criminals must live with.

Christian Bale again acts stoically as if his life depended on it, and the seeds of doubt that must have come across Melvin Purvis's mind about the brutal methods being employed by the Bureau of Investigation get lost in Bale's Bressonain visage. Dillinger's girlfriend is meant to be an outsider because of her Native American ancestry, but Marion Cotillard just can't keep the accent she wants down, and spews forth this bizarre midwest/french weirdness that just distracts from anything that she might have been able to do. One of the better, though small, performances in the film is that of Billy Crudup as master of G-men and creepshows, J. Edgar Hoover. His wacky relentlessness to get the FBI off the ground is evident, as is his relationship with all things masculine. At this point, Hoover isn't the cross-dressing psycho that he would morph into, but slight hints are dropped at his alleged homosexuality ("Tell him he can call me...'J.' ")

The rest of the public enemies (note the plural) are barely in it. Pretty Boy Floyd dies right away, Stephen Graham's Baby Face Nelson is goofy when it should be fucking insane, and the rest of the Dillinger gang never really get to assert themselves. Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi) also is pretty much a cameo, and Ribisi doesn't really create a character, especially not the creepy menace that Karpis was.

I shouldn't really compare this to Band of Outsiders though, so I won't. The film is basically a docudrama with some bank robberies and a shootout. There is nothing about the restlessness of poor young men taking action to affect their lot in life, and the tension building up to the inevitable death Dillinger must have known was coming is not presented as well as it could have been. You want to watch an American classic about gangsters whose romance and crime come together perfectly?: Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Public Enemies doesn't even come close.

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