Saturday, 4 July 2009

Movie review: Public Enemies

I've decided that I'm going to start posting the odd film review here now and again, starting off this week with Michael Mann's Public Enemies. Let me know what you think.

WHEN Michael Mann hinted a few months back that Public Enemies, his Depression era gangster flick, would be something akin to Heat - the director's best movie in my noble opinion - except it would be set in the 30s, I got more than a little excited.

For me, Heat was one of the great films of the 90s, a super story, featuring one of the last good performances from both Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, shot in Mann's distinctive handheld shaky-cam style that suited the sometimes frantic pace of the movie.

And while I was doubtful that Public Enemies would surpass Heat, I was intrigued to see what Mann could do with a story about one 0f the most notorious gangster's of the early 20th century, John Dillinger.

First off, I was right to be doubtful that Mann's new film could surpass Heat but his latest offering is certainly worth a look.

The kernel of the story involves the cat and mouse chase between Dillinger, played with the right amount of swagger and menace by Johnny Depp, and FBI agent Melvin Purvis, portrayed by a less impressive but nonetheless adequate Christian Bale.

After being imprisoned in 1924 for robbing a store, Dillinger was released nine years later, having learned the necessary criminal skills to become a prolific bank robber. He would also however become a Robin Hood style hero, renowned for his charm and taste for the finer things. Purvis was selected by head of the recently formed FBI, J Edgar Hoover, to tackle the booming crime wave in the 30s, spearheaded by bank robbers such as Dillinger.

Fans of the director will notice his trademark shakycam is again employed throughout Public Enemies and while this approach is overused these days, Mann uses it to great effect, particularly during the many shootout scenes, each of which is better than the last. And while car chases, fist fights and plenty of flying flesh features in the movie, it wouldn't be fair to categorise it as merely an action picture.

Although he isn't heard of half as much as his criminal contemporary, Al Capone, Dillinger was a more interesting character and who better to play him than Mr Depp. While the development of other sideline characters does suffer at times as a result, the vast majority of screentime features Dillinger as he juggles robberies, jailbreaks and a love affair with the beautiful and also perfectly cast Marion Cotillard. At the same time, he has to cope with the realisation that his is a dying trade, due to the development of crime-fighting techniques and the ease with which other criminals were making money at the time by running gambling rackets.

Public Enemies doesn't dwell on the fact that its main character was a cold-blooded killer, a ploy most likely used to make the viewer invest in the Depp Cotillard relationship, but the bias isn't enough to take too much away from the picture.

Christian Bale doesn't give one of his best performances as the under pressure Purvis. Maybe it's just me but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching Christian Bale acting, as opposed to one of Hoover's original G-men at work.

Mann recreates the 30s beautifully here. The costumes, cars, weapons and music are all used to great effect to give the piece an authentic feel from start to finish. One nitpicking problem I had, however, were the style of sunglasses that Depp wears at regular intervals in Public Enemies, which certainly didn't look like something that would have been worn in the 30s.

But a glossing over of Dillinger's less than finer points, a below average Bale performance and sunglasses aside, I enjoyed the pants off this one. Mann seemed to be coasting a little with Miami Vice but he's right back on top with Public Enemies and don't be too surprised if it gets a nod in the Best Picture category come Oscar time now that that section has been increased to 10 nominations.

Hoge rating: 8/10

1 comment:

Isambard Chalky Brunel said...

Will check it out later in the week, if the mood takes me, though I too will be very surprised if it matches 'Heat'.

Good idea for a regular feature though Hoge, I hope to see more reviews so that I can steal your critical insights and pass them off as my own.