06
Jul
09

Movie Review: Public Enemies

public_enemies

 

The timeless institution of bank robbing.

Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Billy Crudup, and Marion Cotillard. Directed by Michael Mann

The story begins in 1933. America is in steeped in the Depression and folks are looking for “heroes” who come in the form of Chicagoland gangsters such as Al Capone, George “Babyface” Nelson and this movie’s lead, John Dillinger (Depp). We watch Dillinger and an associate walk into the Indiana State Penitentiary and bust out a few members of his gang. From there it’s on the road to more bank robberies.

Cut to Melvin Purvis (Bale), a lawman in his own right. He hunts down “Pretty Boy” Floyd and delivers a gut shot via shotgun. Purvis is so good at tracking down offenders that his boss, J. Edgar Hoover (Crudup), puts Purvis in charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau he’s trying to get Congress to recognize and help fund. Purvis accepts the job and makes Dillinger Public Enemy Number One.

Which is just fine with Dillinger who is having too much fun going from robbery to robbery. Along the way he meets, and falls in love with, Billie Frechette (Cotillard), a hat and coat-check girl at a local motel. Dillinger persists to have Billie with him and after many attempts to get away, finally concedes. Dillinger vows to protect her.

But the outside world is closing in on Dillinger. His gang is shot or captured one-by-one. Other criminal associates are going high-tech. Congress is about to pass a bill that will change the prosecution of crimes across state lines. Purvis has tapped Billie’s phone and kept her under close surveillance. Dillinger’s days as a free-wheelin’ “Robin Hood’ bank robber are numbered.

Let me mention what I liked about the movie: Mann went as far as he could to make the film feel authentic. From the radios to the phone taps, clothing to cars, Michael Mann and his crew diligently recreated mid-1930’s Chicago. The film was shot hand-held, which “amplifies” the feeling of being there. The color scheme has a sort of “O Brother, Where Art Thou” muted-down browns, blacks, and whites.

My problem with the movie is the pacing. The first hour+ is bamm-bamm-bamm-bamm-bamm-bamm. Don’t get me wrong, Mann knows how to construct an action sequence (“Heat, “Collateral”) but here it just seems too much; we as an audience don’t have time to connect to who Dillinger is aside from being a bank robber. Then again, maybe that’s all the info Mann had; I don’t know. I began liking Purvis and felt his frustration in trying to capture Dillinger using the “clean cut” officers given to him by Hoover (which were ineffective if not killed) but Dillinger came off as a cowboy that couldn’t be stopped. Maybe he was. And there was that subplot about not following Dietrich’s points, which may have kept Dillinger alive, which seemed underplayed.

In any case the second half of the movie slows down for what people know is going to happen: the assassination of Dillinger. We all seem to know more about that than the man himself. This is where we, the audience, enjoy the movie because 1) characterization and 2) empathy buildup for Dillinger’s end. “Peter Pan” has to grow up only to find that it’s too late. He tries to find a way to save the love of his life. We all know it ends at the Biograph Theater. This is the best part of the film, in my opinion.

There are scenes here and there that are notable. My favorite is when Dillinger walked into the Chicago Police Headquarters and walked around the Dillinger Division. Nice.

I’ll also throw in my two cents on the soundtrack. Great stuff. “Ten Million Slaves” by Otis Taylor was a great song to use. Check it out.

Watch for Giovanni Ribisi as Alvin Karpis and Leelee Sobieski as Polly Hamilton.

It’s a good movie that could’ve been great.

My grade: B

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