"Public Enemies" DVD, Blu-Ray Movie Review (2009)

12/11/2009 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

"Public Enemies"

Directed by Michael Mann, written by Ronan Bennett, Ann Biderman and Mann, 140 minutes, rated R.

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

John Dillinger was more than a criminal. He was an icon in a time when crime was more than just crime. It was glamour. It was celebrity. While J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI tried hunting him and his partners down, everyone else embraced him as a symbol of rebellion in a time of economic dread.

Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" follows the exploits of Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his crew at the height of their careers, as well as the efforts of FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to catch him at all costs. The film also explores the relationship between Dillinger and his long-term girlfriend, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).

As much potential as the subject matter has, Mann fills the film with so many characters, events and experimental filming techniques that the most basic aspect of the film, the years-long cat-and-mouse chase between Dillinger and Purvis, gets stifled in all the commotion.

For his last few projects, Mann has relied on digital photography over traditional film. With more stylish and modern features such as "Collateral" and "Miami Vice," such techniques are appropriate and certainly give the material a more realistic and intriguing look.  But with "Public Enemies," the photography mixed with the prevalent brown and grey color schemes and occasional action makes for a thoroughly sloppy and frankly ugly aesthetic, and because nearly every scene is filmed hand-held, even the most toned down and dramatic sequences are almost headache-inducing. To be sure, Mann has an eye for framing, as there are some moments that rise above the drab and look spectacular despite the camerawork, but moments like these are few and far between. Even the mutliple bank robbery and prison break sequences end up being confusing and aggravating.

That said, all of this is almost forgotten when watching Depp. He overcomes every flaw in the film and ends up playing Dillinger exactly as he should be--suave, mysterious, romantic, but with obvious elements of cruelty and unbridled violence. He's engaging, often very funny, and always incredibly threatening. Few performances have transcended their material as strongly as Depp's.

Of course, he's surrounded by plenty of talent--Bale and Cotillard give admirable performances, especially the latter, but all other performances in the film, especially those by Giovanni Ribisi and Channing Tatum, seem almost pointless. They play other criminal icons, but they just pop in for a couple moments, say a line or two, then disappear for another hour. Their presence doesn't make sense, and putting famous actors in the roles only distracts from the plot.

"Public Enemies" doesn't live up to the potential of the talent involved--Mann definitely has done better both in the crime genre and in general--but even as a failed technical experiment, it manages to succeed due to the relatively well-executed portrayal of Dillinger's character.  Regardless of how accurate the film is, it manages to capture time and place extraordinarily well. And above all else, Depp's performance is really a sight to behold.

Grade: C+

View the trailer for "Public Enemies" below.  Thoughts?

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  1. Carla said...

    Shared on facebook

  2. Carla said...

    tweeted about this

  3. helobuff said...

    I cant wiat to see this! Its one of the movies I won!!