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"Public Enemies"

Directed by Michael Mann.
Written by Ronan Bennett, Ann Biderman and Michael Mann.  Based on the book by Bryan Burrough.
Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Jason Clarke and Marion Cotillard.
Release Year:  2009
Review Date:  7/2/09

Folks--

I am a fan of Michael Mann films, because generally, he makes movies for guys.  There's really no other way to describe his trilogy of crime films ("Heat", "Collateral", "Miami Vice"), but even in his Oscar-nominated dramas ("Ali", "The Last of the Mohicans" and "The Insider"), there is a general sense that you'll love those films as a 25-to-54-year-old dude.

In "Public Enemies", Mann has made a film that will appeal to men once again--come on, Tommy guns, women, hardened criminals...what's a man NOT to love?--but in featuring a lead like Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, I think this is the first time since maybe Daniel Day-Lewis in "The Last of the Mohicans" does Mann feature a male lead that plays well to mass-appeal female audiences (sorry, Colin Farrell).  The combination makes for a nice film, but even as a fan of the director, this is not Mann's best work and I'm still not really sure why.

Some of this has to do with multiple storylines; some of this has to do with a film that only really attempts to scratch the surface of the Chicago crime wave of the 1930s.  In addition to following the last year of Dillinger's life of crime, the film also follows the exploits of the government's attempts to put him down...this is represented mainly in the form of J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) in the early days of the "Bureau of Investigation" and one of his top agents, Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale; does the guy EVER take a break?).  Purvis opens the film by chasing down Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum), and in-between trying to catch Dillinger is also trying to catch Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham).  The movie also gives us a look at Dillinger's relationship with a coat check girl named Billie (Marion Cotillard, from "La Vie en Rose") in-between bank robberies and shootouts.

"Public Enemies" does have a little bit of everything; like his last two films, Mann's digital photography here looks cool especially at night.  There are a half-dozen action scenes that are mainly brief in nature, but I have a soft spot in my heart for old-school gangster films so that works for me anytime guys ride off on old Fords with running boards while firing machine guns.  The acting here is good; but, better than the acting, the look of the film is fantastic.  For me, even the scene where three Texas BI agents get off a train and walk towards the camera was great; whether it was true or not, pictures of men in the 30s and 40s just make the men look tougher, and Mann has captured that feeling very well here.  And, the film's best moment for me was the moment when Dillinger comes to pick Billie out of her coat check job and she tells Dillinger that she knows nothing about him...Depp turns in another solid performance here.

But, I was left with a strange feeling when the film was over...even at 140 minutes, the film doesn't really dig into any one subject, and that leaves you with the "Summer Movie Feeling"--easy, digestible entertainment that leaves no aftertaste.  "Public Enemies" is good, but will it become great when I watch it over again?  Strangely, of all the Mann films I watch on TV, "Collateral" has become maybe my favorite one (save for that not-so-great last ten minutes).  I don't know how "Public Enemies" will go down for me; there is no Great Mann Action Scene, there is not a Great Mann Acting Performance like Russell Crowe in "The Insider" or Will Smith in "Ali."  I thought that they could have made a whole movie on investigation technique from the 1930s; in this movie, there are a couple of scenes that make you see some of the genius behind tapping phones or how to block off criminals from leaving buildings...lots of opportunities were wasted here.

Still, "Public Enemies" is a good time.  Just not Mann's best work.

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 07/12/09