PUBLIC ENEMIES (C+)
I have been anticipating this film ever since I saw the first captivating trailer featuring Johnny Depp vs. Christian Bale. But for the third time this summer I was expecting greatness (Transformers/Terminator), and this one was the biggest let down yet (please Harry Potter...BE AWESOME!). Of course I enjoyed Transformers and Terminator, but I wanted them to be amazing and all I got was good. Public Enemies was supposed to be amazing, all I got was mediocrity.
Public Enemies is the almost unbelievable true story of John Dillinger's roller coaster life. The film starts off brilliantly as Dillinger (Depp) is lead into the gates of prison. The slowly shutting prison doors and deep rumble of bass give an imminent and eerie feel of confinement from freedom. Upon the conclusion of the amazing opening scene the film heads further south for the next 2 hours. Not that it got worse, just more and more unsatisfying. Like cold pizza the next day compared to eating it hot last night.
After spending 9 years in prison Dillinger decides he is going to live by squeezing the juice out of each and every moment. Dillinger says, "We're having too good a time today, we ain't thinking about tomorrow." Well of course a life as the most notorious bank robber, public enemy number one, tomorrow is going to come fast and it is going to come hard. Melvin Purvis (Bale) leads the group of federal agents in charge of bringing Dillinger in. The film pits the two against each other, and there are plenty of stand offs between them along the way.
First lets start off with the ever famous director Michael Mann (Collateral, Heat, Ali). Michael was the co-writer, director and producer for Public Enemies. Despite some success in his direction, I believe this was Mann's worst directed/written film yet. Mann conveyed a old time feel with dull tones and used many brilliant camera angles that I loved. Curiosity brews as the camera follows 3 well armed men up the flight of marble stairs to the bank lobby. The action scenes were shot up close with some raw looking footage to contrive realism in the gun battles. The gun standoffs were loud and erratic, but played a good part in this story.
But then you start to notice these shaky camera shots in conventional scenes like a woman walking in a room, or a conversation between characters. Then you notice it again, and again...almost like the camera man was drunk as my friend Zach put it. Mann is known for his fast paced camera style, but in the scenes that aren't fast paced, the camera work needs to resemble that.
On top of the sloppy camera work, add in poor transitions between scenes and poor editing in them. The crisp and smooth shots defined some scenes, and the wavering camera work at times ruined others. These two styles do not mesh well at all, and the procession between the two was distracting to the story being told. For a director that pays attention to detail, it felt like he missed some big ones.
Now I know many of you could not give a crap about specific elements in film like that, but they are important to a project as a whole, and to me enjoying it all.
The script was passable, but hardly worth the talents of Johnny Depp, Christain Bale, Giovanni Ribisi, Marion Cotillard, and Billy Crudup. The script had plenty of memorable quotes, but most were already played in the trailers. The screenwriters never clearly define the characters surrounding Bale and Depp, which makes the film feel... well, empty. Billy Crudup and Giovanni Ribisi are two fantastic actors that needed semblance in this film, an were not given any. Especially Ribisi, his character added nothing to the story except the notion of a potential heist.
The only three characters the script really worked on was Dillinger, Agent Purvis, and Dilliger's love interest Billie (Cotillard). The other characters are hardly given any development or screen time at all; at least until they were dying, being blackmailed, or arrested. At that point it is too late for the audience to care.
Dillinger is standing at the center of this crime world as many of his companions are falling to death or incarceration and the script never pushes these negative effects on Dillinger besides separation from his woman Billie. We see these things, but the script never embraces them or the relationships between Dillinger and his fellow gangsters. Some of the crooks were touched on, others were completely missed.
On a plus side this was definitely the finest acting I have seen in a film this year. Bale and Depp are dynamite in their scenes together, which are so few (another flaw in the script!) it leaves you feeling unsatisfied. The Academy Award winning starlet Marion Cotillard dominates the screen with her quiet but confident role of Billie, AKA Dillinger's boo. Every actor that was in this film stepped up their game because of the film's unreal star power.
It was nice to see Bale talk normal again, only kidding. He showed a wide range of emotions with his character, and had that distinct screen presence the entire film starting with his long range snipe of a fleeing fugitive. He acted strong and confident with his task to catch Dillinger, but also brought loss and sadness in all his failed attempts to capture or continue to imprison Dillinger.
Johnny Depp = awesome. Depp shows us once again he could play a rock if he were cast as one. He shines in this role, but sadly I honestly felt the script left his character too dull. By the end I wasn't attached to this notorious villain like all citizens in the 1930's were. A good example is the movie Blow (everyone on Earth should own a copy). Depp plays the most prominent cocaine dealer of the 1970's named George Jung. His character is much like Dillinger; though they are both criminals neither are really monsters at heart. At the end of Blow you mourn for George and his dire situation. At the end of Public Enemies you just kind of want it to be over.
The film however did finish very strong with a closing scene featuring the film's best character, Billie.
Unfortunate to the wonderful true story at hand there were too many bank jobs and shoot outs going down when we should have been watching these amazing actors work through these real events. Instead of these events being extraordinary it begins to feel like just another escape, another bank robbery, and another shootout. You start to wonder where this action is working towards, and when the story finally going to wrap up. Any movie that I get squeamish wishing for an ending, cannot be amazing.
Overall the star power could not save this mediocre script or some of Mann's shortcomings. Is it worth your time? Of course. Some will hate it, some will love it. Some would rather watch robots bash each other one more time. Which brings the real question: Is it going to beat Transformers at the box office?? I'm gonna say no.