Public Enemies

Finally. I get to review my most anticipated film of Summer ’09. After worrying that I’d missed my chance to see it (fuck you, Cwmbran Vue) I got to see the latest Michael Mann flick the other frabjous day. Callooh! Callay!

Public Enemies (2009)

Ah, summer blockbusters. Don’t you just love ’em? They’re pretty much the cinematic equivalent of junk food- satisfying, but ultimately bad for you. Partake in too much and your brain will rot. But still, it’s fun isn’t it? All those action films with massive explosions and all those high budget comedies where you are literally paying some idiot man-children to run about on the screen. Wait a minute- what’s this? Michael Mann has slapped that greasy burger from our hands and presented us with a fantastically presented, lavish meal! God bless you Mr. Mann!

I like baseball, movies, good clothes, whiskey, fast cars… and you. What else you need to know?”

Public Enemies is the story of John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), the notorious bank robber who was active in Great Depression 1930’s America. The film portrays the criminal life and loves of Dillinger in parallel to the life of Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and the birth of the F.B.I. The film constantly cuts between Dillinger’s life on the lam with his girlfriend, Billie (Marion Cotillard) and J. Edgar Hoover’s (Billy Crudup) “war on crime”. The story was excellent, proving that some of the richest tales can be garnered from real life. Having said that, the film took several liberties with the truth, which as someone who is fascinated by the Dillinger story, took me out of the film a bit. Johnny Depp was great as Dillinger, although I got the feeling he was trying hard to supress the urge to ham it up and do something wacky at times. Christian Bale was surprisingly good as Purvis, finally dropping that ridiculous throat-grating voice for a generic American accent. Marion Cotillard was fantastic, although I could have done with seeing more of her.

Nearly every review I’ve read/ heard has drawn attention to the way the film was shot, bitching about the fact that a film set in the 1930’s is shot on spage age, super-shiny HD cameras. I really had no problem with this. It genuinely annoys me when films are intentionally degraded to give them a period feel. The actual past wasn’t all grainy and scratched, nor did it have all the colour bleached out of it. I’m not saying films shouldn’t be in black and white or anything, it’s just that it wouldn’t have suited this film. The details are as meticulously period as you can get anyway, so why complain?

There are so many great scenes in this film it’s hard to know where to begin. The opening jailbreak is really well done, as are the robberies themselves. The stand out scene for me has got to be the lodge scene which has got to be the most realistic gunfight I’ve seen in a long time (I am aware realistic gunplay is sort of Mann’s trademark). There’s also an honestly shocking scene featuring the torture of Billie that will be burned onto my brain for a long time. It’s a genuine thrill to see a skilled filmmaker tell a story like this rather than some glorified music video director randomly hitting buttons, hoping that some meaning can be found amongst all the death, titties and explosions big enough to take out Jeremy Clarkson’s sense of self-importance.

My one real problem with Public Enemies is that it seemed more concerned with what Dillinger did, rather than who he actually was. Anyone can read the history books to find out what Dillinger got up to, but it’s harder to find out what he was actually like. I mean, at the time Dillinger was a legend (and I use the proper sense of the word “legend”, not “Aw- you should ‘ave seen my mate Baz last night- ‘e drank 15 Carlsbergs before puking all over himself and fucking some fat slag- what a legend!) and whilst the film alluded to this, I personally didn’t think the film went far enough into finding out what made the man tick. I also figured we’d see the poverty that was rife in 1930’s America, given the fact that the film was trying to be as historically accurate as it could in other places and also the fact the it would explained why Dillinger was cheered in the street and so on. Picture it, you’re so damn poor you have to shop at Lidl, wallowing in your own despair when you hear of some enigmatic man just like you, robbing the banks in daring heists and leaving the police scratching their heads. Sexy, no? Well, that’s just what it was like and I wish I could have seen some of that.

“They ain’t tough enough, smart enough or fast enough. I can hit any bank I want, any time. They got to be at every bank, all the time.”

Despite these problems, Public Enemies manages to be an amazing film. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it is now battling it out for the best film of the year with Star Trek. It’s just that damn good.

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