Tuesday, July 07, 2009

REVIEW: Public Enemies

Public Enemies

Year: 2009
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA: Rated R

Writer Bryan Burrough -- who had written a non-fiction book titled "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34"-- pitched the idea of doing a movie based on America's notorious criminal John Dillinger, as a miniseries to the folks at HBO. They were very interested in the project and asked Burrough to write a screenplay. HBO started losing interest in the project because the screenplay wasn't quite finished. HBO than sold the rights back to production companies representing Michael Mann. Mann was attached to direct along with Leonardo DiCaprio cast as John Dillinger. Filming never got off the ground because Mann was busy with other projects which resulted in DiCaprio dropping out to star in Martin Scorsese's upcoming thriller, Shutter Island. In 2007, Michael Mann expressed interest in this project with Universal Pictures fully backing the film. The production company was lucky enough to get Johnny Depp who was already very fascinated with the character, on aboard. Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard also signed on after reading the script.

Plot Outline:
The year is 1933, it's the Great Depression. A time for the desperate to do the unthinkable. Crime was on the rise and people were suffering. For John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) it was a time of infinite possibilities and opportunities. To combat the sharp incline in rampant criminal activity, J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) forms the FBI, led by Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). Together they target Dillinger as public enemy number one. Relying on new methods of intelligence gathering (such as tracking the purchase location of a coat or recording phone conversations), the firepower of trained gunmen, and his own relentless nature, Purvis gets closer and closer to Dillinger and company.

Public Enemies is essentially a film adaptation of Bryan Burrough's non-fiction book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34. The film is engaging, but also alittle slow. We don't get much character development so it becomes pretty hard to care about these characters. We hardly know anything about Dillinger's gang which really feels like a missed opportunity considering they played a big part in Dillinger's life. Their is also a romantic aspect of the film that involves John Dillinger and Billie Frechette, which works for the most part, but ultimately feels like it should have been fleshed out more. Thankfully the film has a wonderful cast that really delivers, which makes the lack of character development at least somewhat forgiving. Public Enemies is also a long movie which has now become a standard in most of director Michael Mann's films. While I personally didn't find the length to be an issue, I can see some audiences feeling alittle bored at times. Their were some scenes that I personally felt could have been cut or trimmed to make the overall film much more coherent. Luckily, the film does have its share of awesome shootouts which also has become a trademark from director Michael Mann. These scenes are nicely shot and looks fantastic. I also admire Mann's attention to detail and the film definitely shows it. Everything looks as it probably would have back in 1933 down to every little detail. The script is mostly historically accurate, but it might have stayed alittle too close to the source. Theirs one scene were we see Dillinger walk into a Police station and leave un-noticed. While this actually did happen in real life, it just comes off alittle silly especially compared to the audiences of today. I enjoyed the ending and it really felt natural to me.

Johnny Depp plays as public enemy number one, John Dillinger. I have always been a fan of Johnny Depp because I think the man can just about play any part and make it special. He doesn't disappoint here and his take on John Dillinger is simply great. He plays this badass bank robber that literally never stops to think about tomorrow, but rather focus on today. Hes cocky, arrogant and very dangerous. Christian Bale plays as the FBI agent in charge of taking down John Dillinger, Melvin Purvis. Bale gives a pretty good performance, but its really not on par with Johnny Depp. Bale's character feels one dimensional at times, but I think this was due largely because of the script. Hes still good in this role, but it feels like he could have done better. Marion Cotillard plays as Dillinger's love interest, Billie Frechette. She gives a great performance that I really enjoyed. Shes sexy and displayed a good amount of emotion. I also think she was perfect opposite Johnny Depp, but I do wish that her role was more significant and longer. We also have the talented Billy Crudup playing as J. Edgar Hoover. He plays the part good, but it definitely ain't his best performance. I thought his acting was alot stronger in Watchmen, but maybe that's because he had more screen time in that movie. He does what he can with what little the script has of him.

The visual look of Public Enemies is probably going to get the most mixed reaction from audiences. Mann chose to shoot the film using digital cinematography which involves shooting the film using HD cameras. Mann has done this with his 2004 crime thriller, Collateral and his recent 2006 film adaptation of Miami Vice. Those films worked using this type of camera because they were in present day, but Public Enemies focuses on 1933 era. I personally don't have a problem with Mann going with HD on this film, but it would have been interesting to see what the film might have looked like if used regular photographic film. With that said, the actual transfer of the film looks incredible. The films source is in great shape and contains a thin veil of grain through out the picture. The color palette is mostly muted to reflect the tone of the 1933 era, but their are also many scenes that just pop with color. The scene at the end with Dillinger at the theater looks really vivid. Black levels are strong, but really tend to drop off during the darker scenes at night. Detail is exceptionally strong which shouldn't come off as a surprise considering the movie was filmed using HD cameras. Close ups show a considerable amount of detail.

The soundtrack in Public Enemies is pretty good, but does run into a few problems. The films sound level doesn't seem to be on the same page. The shootout/action scenes tend to be louder and more clean, while others are mostly softer and alittle hard to hear. The score is composed by Elliot Goldenthal who has scored other hit films such as Mann's heist thriller, Heat and 2002's Frida. His work here is good and works well with the tone of the film. Its wonderful to listen to and is used effectively through out the movie. Public Enemies also packs a powerful punch in the bass department. The shootout scenes really stand out and sound amazing. You can literally hear every bullet hit something in pristine clarity. This ain't Transformers 2 by any means, but its pretty impressive for a film like this to sound this good in the bass department. It felt dynamic and evenly spread out. I cant wait to hear this film on Blu Ray and its lossless soundtrack

Public Enemies is a hyped up gangster film that could have been something special, but just ends up being a really good movie. The story is pretty good, but seems to be lacking in terms of character development and proper editing. Their were some scenes that I felt could have easily been trimmed or cut to make a better and cohesive film. The shootout scenes are some of the best Ive seen and definitely worth watching this film for. The cast is mostly good, but most of them feel one dimensional. Johnny Depp is great as Dillinger, but he seems to overshadow just about everyone in the film. The visual look of the movie is really unique. Although the film looks somewhat washed out because of the fast motion feeling of filming in HD, it still looks pretty cool. The soundtrack is pretty good, but their were a few instances where the audio was alittle muffled when characters spoke. Shootout scenes sound awesome and exceptionally crisp. Public Enemies ain't the next Godfather, but its still a really good movie. Sure it doesn't live up to the hype it has generated, mostly due to the amount of talent involved, but its still a really good movie that definitely worth watching. I would love to see an extended version like they did with Ridley Scott's American Gangster because I actually ended up favoring the extended version alot more.

Grade: B-


Andrew The Dark said...

saw this over the weekend and I couldn't agree more. It was a good movie, but felt a little long. Good performances though

micky said...

i thougt the movie was decent. really long and not enough action..

Farzan said...

Definitely not Mann's best film, but still good none the less.

Anonymous said...

I'm particular. I once sent back a '65 Chateau Haut Brion because of its ambiguous color. And I want to applaud Mann and Depp for putting Depression-era ambience on the screen as it's never been done before. That's enough for me and I wish them well.
I was also pleased to learn that Dillinger supports a national health plan.

Anonymous said...

Good review, Farzan. It's a very good film, but it would have been better with more fleshed-out characters. I still would like to see this material presented as a miniseries, though.

Rudy said...

Usually a Michael Mann movie is about slow character development. I'm surprised you didn't think so for this movie. Maybe he changed his ways?

The only old-times gangster movie that I ever like is The Untouchables. I'll try out the extended version of American Gangster, per your recommendation.

Farzan said...

Good to know

I agree that with more flesh outed character, the story would have been more interesting to see. I never really thought about it, but a mini-series would have definitely been a cool idea.

They usually are slow, but this film hardy had any character development besides Dillinger which also felt tacked on at times. The Untouchables is good, but I really like the extended cut of American Gangster. I feel its better constructed and more engrossing than the theatrical cut.

CruizD said...

Still is still yet to show here but good review: I'd been reading bad things about it but it seems you made a good account of what to expect from it!