Michael Mann’s ‘Public Enemies’ arrives just in time this season to remind audiences looking for some smart adult action, they needn’t venture into movies about robots and aliens, or endure John Travolta’s embarrassing rants and whines on a subway train. Instead, they can sit back and watch Johnny Depp, one of the greatest actors around, single-handedly take this movie and breathe life into celluloid as 1930s American gangster and professional bank robberJohn Dillinger, on the run from and on the radar of the FBI.
Now, let’s get this out here right away, however: ‘Public Enemies’ is not a great movie. It’s far from Mann’s ‘Heat’, but it’s luminous when compared to 2006’s ‘Miami Vice’ adaptation. In fact, I felt much the same way about this movie as I did with Ridley Scott’s ‘American Gangster.’ Now instead of Denzel Washington vs. Russell Crowe, we have Johnny Depp vs. Christian Bale — and the end results are pretty similar. Both flicks are from master filmmakers, showcasing two stars in the lead performances, and each film is interesting and competently made — but neither sizzle.
‘Public Enemies’ most certainly has two things going for it. Johnny Depp is superb in the role. His Dillinger character is dark, mysterious, but also straight-laced. In fact, Dillinger as a character seems to have been written so mysterious that the audience never fully understands or feels that heroic connection with him. But Depp plays it up even when he’s not given dramatic scenes to shine in. Michael Mann adds to Depp’s talent. The director cooks up shootouts with great intensity. And I suppose I can’t overlook Marion Cotillard. The Oscar-winning actress has an authentic romance with Depp’s character that never comes off contrived or tacked-on. The audience truly believes in their relationship, and it works.
The drawbacks really extend from the movie not involving the audience as it should. From Christian Bale’s straightforward and uninteresting performance as Agent Melvin Purvis, the man hunting Dillinger, to the confusing supporting characters that are never given the proper distinctive treatment, and finally the lack of excitement in the bank heists — I really wasn’t engrossed in the full spectrum of the picture. I greatly admired Depp’s work, some of the film’s intensity, and much of the ‘hunt’ of the storyline, but I didn’t feel quite as connected to Dillinger’s story and the men surrounding him as I wanted to be. While those gripes didn’t make this a bad film, because this remains satisfactory work, this isn’t greatness. And from Michael Mann, that’s what I hope for.
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