Why is it that anyone who is critical of Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" is promptly branded as a "hater" on this Web site? I don't hate this film or the filmmaker, I just believe it's not a very good film.
I've enjoyed some of Mann's films in the past. I am a fan of "Thief" (1981), "Manhunter" (1986) and "Heat" (1995) and thought "The Insider" (1999) and "Ali" (2001) were interesting. But, as far as I am concerned, "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992) was over-blown - it is not, as one poster claimed, one of the five best films ever made; it's not even one of the 5,000 best films ever made - "Collateral" (2004) started off intriguingly before turning into an utterly conventional thriller, and "Miami Vice" (2006) was rubbish.
But I went into "Public Enemies" with much optimism, given that it stars Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard. And the subject seemed thoroughly suited for Mann.
What a tremendous disappointment "Public Enemies" turned out to be.
There is absolutely nothing special about this film. The best it can be called is middling. It is hum-drum, run-of-the-mill and certainly not something I expected from someone of Mann's caliber.
For starters, this film is not about public enemies; it's about a public enemy. Blink and you will miss Pretty Boy Floyd. And you have no idea who Baby Face Nelson is until someone in the film points him out.
The film began promisingly with the exciting breakout from an Indiana penitentiary. The cinematography looked terrific in that opening shot and there was something delightfully visceral about that sequence.
But then came the rest of the film.
The story moved from one tedious set piece to another. Roger Ebert, whose criticism I respect, lauded Mann for his "meticulous" research for this film. I wonder if Mann's meticulousness included killing off Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Homer Van Meter *before* Dillinger when, in real life, they all outlived Dillinger. And Van Meter was *not* gunned down along with Baby Face Nelson.
I realize Mann's fans claim this is a movie and Mann was taking artistic license to enhance his story, as is his wont. But I wonder whether these fans would have echoed similar sentiments if Mann, say, had Muhammad Ali fight Joe Frazier in the Rumble in the Jungle in "Ali" or had Ali lose the fight to Foreman in that film.
Historical inaccuracies aside, "Public Enemies" is just dull. Mann wants us to believe that Dillinger and Billie Frechette were soul mates. But the only word to described their relationship - as Mann shows it - is bland. Which is a shame considering he had two fine actors in Depp and Cotillard and completely wastes them. They are given very little to work with and their dialogue is, at times, downright embarrassing.
Depp has oodles of charm and charisma, but he plays Dillinger solely as cool. There's nothing more to his persona, and when Depp has to be mean on a few occasions, it just doesn't work. Christian Bale, on the other hand, is entirely forgettable as Purvis. It's a nothing character and Bale plays him exactly as he has all his other recent roles. This is a somnambulist Batman and John Connor playing Purvis, mumbling his lines and showing next to no emotion. You learn nothing about Purvis throughout the entire film.
I felt sorry for the wonderful Cotillard because her relatively minor role is made even more minute because her character has no depth and she gets little help from a wanting script. In fact, none of the characters has much depth, if any, and so Mann wastes a talented cast of supporting players that includes Stephen Dorff, Stephen Lang, David Wenham, Matt Craven, Giovanni Ribisi, Jason Clarke, Leelee Sobieski and James Russo.
Then there's the cinematography and I really don't know if one can blame Dante Spinotti for this. I realize Mann is in love with digital technology and while that might have worked on "Collateral" and "Miami Vice," it does not here. With the exception of a few lovely shots, the rest of the film looks like it was shot on someone's cheap holiday camera. I have seen home movies that looked crisper, brighter. The night-time scenes look thoroughly washed out and sans any contrast and the infamous shoot-out in Little Bohemia - which is terribly choreographed - looks like a lousy video game.
I am not averse to shooting in digital. There are countless films that look terrific shot on high-definition digital. Take a peek at "The Lookout" (2007), for instance. It looks spectacular shot on high-def. I personally believe that period pieces should be shot on film, but even granting Mann's decision to shoot digital, why on earth didn't he use, say, Panavision's Genesis or the Red One cameras? He certainly wasn't constrained by the budget.
I realize Mann could take a crap at Hollywood and Vine and his fans would consider it a masterpiece. But it's still crap and just because it came from Mann doesn't turn it into gold.
"Public Enemies" is simply a disappointing movie. It lacks any depth, the characters are boring at best, insipid at worst. The film ambles along without any sense of how to tell a story or put that story into the context of American history and, after a while, all I could think of was how much better Arthur Penn fared with "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), how much more I wanted to see that film instead and could we please get to The Biograph already.
But Mann even managed to screw up the grand finale by adding an unnecessarily hokey and sentimental coda.
Action / Biography / Crime / Drama / History / Romance
Action / Biography / Crime / Drama / History / Romance
This is the story of the last few years of the notorious bank robber John Dillinger. He loved what he did and could imagine little else that would make him happier. Living openly in 1930s Chicago, he had the run of the city with little fear of reprisals from the authorities. It's there that he meets Billie Frechette with whom he falls deeply in love. In parallel we meet Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who would eventually track Dillinger down. The FBI was is in its early days and Director J. Edgar Hoover was keen to promote the clean cut image that so dominated the organization through his lifetime. Purvis realizes that if he is going to get Dillinger, he will have to use street tactics and imports appropriate men with police training. Dillinger is eventually betrayed by an acquaintance who tells the authorities just where to find him on a given night.
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December 14, 2011 at 03:38 PM