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August 17, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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Public Enemies


Public Enemies had all the components to make a great summer blockbuster. Two of the most interesting and intense actors of today going head to head. An ability to comment on the current economic situation as its set in 1930s America. A director with a penchant for elevating crime stories out of their genre. Unfortunately for Public Enemies, these elements failed to come together and resulted in an uneven film.

The problems start with script and the characters. Although based heavily on real people I left the cinema knowing very little about bank robber John Dillinger (Depp) or the officer assigned to bring him down, Melvin Purvis (Bale). With a run time of 2hrs 40 this does not make for compelling viewing. The script is missing an overall narrative push forward, lacking the urgency of Heat. Purvis and Dillinger exist in the film, the audience observes, but always from a distance.

Depp’s performance was always interesting, but due to the narrative arc of the script we are never able to connect. Bale on the other hand is intense, talks slowly and his scenes quickly became repetitive. A number of celebrities played minor roles, which became distracting, although Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover was more compelling than either of the leads.

suffers aesthetically from Mann’s love of digital cinema. While city lights were perfect for lighting the modern urban locales of Collateral and Miami Vice, they didn’t do justice to depression-era Chicago. Scenes set during they day look flat, and the grainy images were not appropriate for such a romanticised era. However at times the quality of light felt right, lending a golden softness to the characters and the two scenes lit with flares were beautiful and striking. The editing at times failed to set up the spatial geography of the scenes, making the gunfights hard to watch as you didn’t know where or who the characters were in relation to each other.

Despite its flaws there is something that I still can’t quite identify which made Public Enemies innately watchable. The scene of Dillinger walking into the office of the police unit hunting him is perfect. My reaction to Enemies has been to focus on elements that I found less successful. But the film, perhaps because of its flaws, is the most interesting Hollywood film to be released this year.

Public Enemies
Written and directed by Michael Mann
With Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Billy Crudup

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