Public Enemies

Public Enemies

Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, and Marion Cotillard
Directed by Michael Mann (Collateral)
Rated R for gangster violence and some language
Appropriate for ages 17+

    During the 1930’s gangster John Dillinger (Depp) and others wreaked havoc across America, robbing dozens of banks and tormenting the government until they were forced to create a police force that could have jurisdiction across state lines.  Public Enemies tells the story of Dillinger, his relationship with coat check girl Billie Frechette (Cotillard), and the federal agent determined to take him down (Bale).

    With the exception of the really lousy Miami Vice, writer/director Michael Mann has always delivered gritty, gutsy dramas filled with intense action yet biting suspense.  That is why I was so excited to see what he could do with a film like this.  And while most of his movies have had good guys in the lead (i.e. Last of the Mohicans, The Insider), he has also drawn connection with the villain in such films as Heat and Collateral.  I say all of this to show that I was already sold on Dillinger as a hero, and watching this film I just couldn’t buy it.  Sure there was the scene where he told the farmer to keep his money – he only wants the bank’s money.  And he gets angry at his colleague for killing a guard.  But he is a cold-hearted killer and I just couldn’t develop a connection with him or any empathy for his plight.

    Likewise, I expected Federal Agent Purvis, played by Bale, to be like Elliot Ness in the Untouchables, and instead we are given a character with very little to offer the audience other than he likes to shoot villains and he doesn’t like to see cops beat women.  For me to develop a tie with a character, I need more than what is offered in this film, and therefore I really couldn’t appreciate what was supposed to be the film’s good guy. 

    I can’t fault the performances though.  At least Depp’s.  Johnny is very good as Dillinger and creates a wonderful villain that could have been really well utilized in the right story.  Cotillard is a great actress, but her accent was so in and out that it was hard to tell if she was American, French, or something non-descript.  Bale tried the hick, and did a decent enough job, but it was a bit distracting as thick as it was. 

    What I was most disappointed with though was how disjointed the film felt.  There were too many pieces that didn’t seem to fit.  The cinematography by Oscar-nominated Dante Spinotti was incredibly inconsistent.  For instance, the action scenes were done with many fast edits that looked like they used different types of cameras, to a degree that made the film feel off-balance.  Also, the amount of closeups used was insanely over-used.  The music, by Oscar-winning composer Elliot Goldenthal, might have sounded great on its own, but didn’t fit the movie that well at all.  And the pacing was amazingly slow.  The movie felt like a three-and-a-half hour epic and it came in at 140 minutes. 

    So while I really wanted to enjoy this film, I just couldn’t.  The whole thing felt a mess to me.  Sure it had some great production and a terrific Depp, but as for entertainment – it was a real letdown.  C