Saturday, July 4, 2009

Public Enemies (2009) -Movie Review

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In reality… I hate Public Enemies. It’s everything that’s wrong with films. Michael Mann’s spastic directing and inability to make his main characters come to life is about as inspiring as watching a five-hundred pound fat dude stand up for the first time in 10 years. You really just want to shove them down again. While the main part of the movie is an abysmal montage of tommy gun muzzle fire, shaky camera work, and lighting that leaves you literally in the dark for half the film, there’s something in the middle of this movie that actually works… and it’s not anything you might have seen in the trailers.

Public Enemies is an Untouchables-esque story and “biopic” chronicling the life of John Dillinger. Just as The Untouchables had Scarface, Public Enemies has Dillinger (Johnny Depp), a bank robbing ladies’ man. Just as The Untouchables had Eliot Ness, Public Enemies has Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), the dedicated FBI agent whose mission it is to track down Dillinger. The film exists in the space between reality and movies, glamorizing a person who was basically a mindless thug who wanted money and prostitutes. The film turns Dillinger into a hero… into someone who isn’t worthy of being gunned down in front of a movie theater, but it’s all so unbelievable, and handled in a manner that feels like a caricature of serious movie. Public Enemies wants the viewer to look at Dillinger and say, “That guy’s cool. Don’t kill his ass.” It wants you to look at Dillinger and Purvis and see a Ness/Capone type relationship. But the fact of the movie is that everything it wants to do is butchered by bad directing… and some bad acting

Michael Mann isn’t someone that I would call a great director. His only successes were Heat and The Last of the Mohicans. His later flicks were glitzy bullshit that seem to be copied from the Michael Bay book of directing, choppy bits of fluff sandwiched in between bad humor and big-name stars big-time stinking it up. Public Enemies isn’t all that different from Mann’s directing on films like Miami Vice and Collateral. Public Enemies is violently choppy, super loud, and ultimately not as enjoyable as it should be. Every time there is a shootout, this is what happens: Guy stands in front of window. Guy fires tommy gun which we see from behind his back. Muzzle flare lights up darkness, occasionally showing us the actor’s face. Repeat for five to ten minutes and you’ve got yourself a Public Enemies shootout. If you like your shootouts confusing and indefinite, maybe you’ll love this shit. At least the sound was great.

One thing that Mann does right, and this is amid horrible characterizations for the main characters, is that he manages to salvage what could have been a stinker of a movie with an excellent and beautiful subplot. In the film, John Dillnger falls for a dame by the name of Billie Frechette. Mann’s ability to capture the essence of the character and turn what is obviously a fictionalized version of a historic relationship into something epic is surprising to say the least. Who knew the man that did Miami Vice could actually pull off a heartfelt moment? The end of the film is definitely the highlight of the flick, but it’s a shame that you have to sit through two and a half hours of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale being Johnny Depp and Christian Bale to get to it.

Speaking of which, the acting on this shit is atrocious. But what would you expect from any movie that has The Dancing Dude, Channing Tatum, in it? Granted he gets killed in the first ten minutes of the movie, but his crapitude is only replaced by the crapitude of other actors who should know better. Christian Bale, who has for all intents and purposes lost any respect for himself or the acting profession, is complete garbage yet again in this film. This performance might not be as bad as Terminator: Salvation, but it’s still not good. Thankfully, Bale doesn’t have another movie scheduled for release until 2011, which gives us a year to forget his 1930’s American gentleman accent, which had me snickering in the theater. Johnny Depp is less infuriating, but he doesn’t feel like anything special either. His performance is solid, yet vacuous enough to be forgettable. Honestly, when he was picking up Ms. Frechette, it felt like he was playing Cry-Baby again… only without the humor. Depp brings nothing to the character, except more of “badass” Johnny Depp (That’s sarcasm.)… and a really ugly looking moustache. The true star of the film is Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette. Frechette gives the only energetic performance in the film and her character arc is amazing. I feel like Mann was using her character to clue the audience into how they are supposed to feel about Dillinger’s character, which is awestruck and in love. However, the character inspires none of this and Cotillard’s ability to act like he inspired this in her character is truly a success.

Public Enemies is a nightmare from a direction standpoint, and without the Billie Frechette subplot, I would probably give this thing a three. But it’s in there, and it’s worth wading through all the bullshit that comes with Bale, Depp, and Mann to get to it.

Final Synopsis: I really like a portion of this movie a lot, but most of it is mindless drivel.

Points Lost: -1 for extreme close-ups too much of the time, -1 for excessive shaky cam, -1 for poorly shot shottouts that lack impact, -1 for the fictionalization and glamorizing of a scumbag, -1 for Christian Bale and his accent, -1 for Johnny Depp’s Cry-Baby revisited

Bonus Points: +1 for Marion Cotillard, +1 for bangin’ sound effects

Lesson Learned: Never trust a hooker.

Burning Question: Wouldn’t this movie be better if it were titled Public Enemas?

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