Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Stephen Dorff, Billy Crudup, Channing Tatum, Stephen Graham, David Wenham, Jason Clarke, Emilie De Ravin
Running Time: 140 minutes
Score: 8 / 10
This review by me. Check out my report from the press conference.
John Dillinger. He seemed unstoppable and in the 13 months from his release from prison to his death he lived for the moment and became a legend. Paroled in May, 19933 and by July 1934 he was dead.
Michael Mann’s Public Enemies tells the tale of Dillinger and his pursuit by G-Man Melvin Pervis, the inspiration for the look of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy.
My first thoughts on the film – It was good, but not a masterpiece as some are calling it. However, after watching it again that may change for the better, hell it may change while I get my thoughts sorted in this review. The reason being the way it was filmed.
Let me explain. We are all used to films from that era to have certain look and feel to them. That period sheen were you know, not just from the cars and costumes that you are looking at something from the past. The look that film can give you. However, Mann used HD cameras as he did with Collateral. As you know this has a contemporary immediacy about it. It can remind you of a home video or a documentary and lots of the shots in Public Enemies had a hand held look to them as you follow Dillinger and his gang on numerous bank robberies. What I am trying to get at is that this film seemed as if it was shot back then but with todays technology. It’s unlike any other period film that I’ve seen in that regard and it took me a while to get used to it. I found myself enjoying the film more as it went on. Hence if I watched it again I would probably get more out of it.
With that out of the way, let’s get on with it. Depp as Dillinger is superb. You get him straight away. He’s got out of prison after a lengthy sentence for a minor teenage crime. The world around him is full of colour, fun and opportunity and he wants it all right now and to hell with tomorrow. Johnny Depp plays him with a devil may care smile and you can see why the public loved John Dillinger. He played the PR thing before it was invented.
What got me was how cool he was under pressure. From walking around the Dillinger Task Force offices surrounded by photos of himself to breaking out of Lake County Jail with a gun he carved out of a chopping board he just didn’t seem to care what happened to him.
This Lake County breakout was one of my favourite scenes. Depp with his wooden gun takes a few guards hostage before driving out of the prison in the warden’s own car. The audacity of the man was amazing. If you feel that it was a little far fetched it turns out that Michael Mann toned it down from reality as in real life Dillinger took 13 guards hostage but Mann felt the audience would find that a little hard to believe!
The fact that this scene and many others were filmed at the actual locations where events took place makes it all the more realistic. It also went someway in helping the actors play the roles. Little Bohemia Lodge where the FBI surrounded Dillinger and his gang only for them to get away once again. The Biograph theatre in Chicago where Dillinger watched his final film, Manhatten Melodrama (where Clark Gable basically plays Dillinger), was renovated for the film and when Dillinger meets his end in the film, Depp falls in the exact same spot that Dillinger did.
Marion Cotillard is great as Dillinger’s girl, Billie Frechette. She has that wounded innocence that was seen in A Very Long Engagement and in an interrogation scene with the FBI she is wonderful. Like many of the actors she is not actually in the film for that great a length of time, but she lights up the screen every time she is.
Christian Bale plays Melvin Purvis. Hand picked by J Edgar Hoover (a great portrayal by Billy Crudup) the straight laced G-Man finds he has to bend his strict moral code to bring Dillinger to justice and you can see it cutting him up as the film goes on. Bale, as usual, plays it well. He oozes professionalism as the man who tracked down Dillinger and then the frustration as he escapes once again. There is no Batman growl, but he did keep the accent all through the shooting of the film.
Bale and Depp only have a few minutes of screen time together – Mann seems to like doing this with big names, Pacino and De Niro in Heat had a similar amount of time together – but they do it well. Two sides of the same coin. One buttoned down and in control, the other living for the moment, but both keenly aware that they are losing friends and that one day soon only one of them will still be alive.
Around these three big names are numerous other great actors. Many of whom are only on screen for a short time – Stephen Dorff as Homer Van Meter, Channing Tatum as a blink and you’ll miss him Pretty Boy Floyd, Stephen Graham (This is England, Snatch) was brilliant as Baby Face Nelson, David Wenham (300, Australia), Jason Clarke, Emilie De Ravin and many more. All of them were great. Yet sadly not enough time was spent on getting to know some of them. Some of the characters were long time friends of Dillinger, yet you don’t get a chance to know them before they disappear never to be seen again.
The look of the film is spot on. Everything looks authentic – cars, guns, clothes, buildings – and Mann directs with his usual aplomb. The gunfight scenes are all gripping and loud. This is to be expected from Mann whose gun battle in Heat is still one of my favourites.
My main problem with the film was that I felt curiously uninvolved in the first part of the film. This may have been due to the way it was filmed as I mentioned at the start, but it also felt as if you were dropped into the middle of things and then moved quickly to the next scene and then the next, before things settled down a little after the first third. This may have been intentional though to get you into the hectic life of the Dillinger gang, but it did make it hard to get a handle on the characters.
The look and feel of the film did remind me a lot of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde.
It was 140 minutes in length but it flew by and I felt a little extra time spent on some of the minor characters would have added to my enjoyment. I definitely want to see it again though as I would appreciate the film more now I know how the HD camerawork affects the look of it all.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is well worth seeing especially if you are a fan of Mann’s previous work. Plus Johnny Depp is always great to see. Be prepared for the curious effect the HD has on the period look and you will enjoy it all the more.