The newest film from director Michael Mann tells the story of the chase for "public enemy number one", John Dillinger, played by everybody's favorite 21 Jumpstreet alum Johnny Depp. The entire world loves Johnny Depp so he's not really on the line here. I am pretty sure he could adapt 2 Girls 1 Cup for the big screen and there would be a line around the block. I don't know what that says about him exactly but it definitely says something. Christian Bale stars as Melvin Purvis, the FBI Agent sent by J Edgar Hoover to clean up the dirty 1930's Chicago streets and capture Dillinger. Bale has recently achieved megastardom with his roles in the Christopher Nolan Batman films as well as his role as John Conner in Terminator Salvation, so he's not really on the line here either; however, it should be noted that he still has a severe case of over-accent-itis.
Michael Mann wrote and directed [amazon B000A2WP7O], [amazon B000P0J0AG], and [amazon B00003CWRX] consecutively. That is a very strong run of filmmaking. Next Mann directed Will Smith in [amazon B00005JKMQ], and while I am of the belief that Ali was overrated, it's still anything but garbage. Ali was undoubtedly a step down from The Insider which meant Mann may have hit his peak. Possibly by coincidence, but probably not, Ali also marked Mann's first foray into the Jamie Foxx business. Mann again teamed with Foxx and a little hobbit named Tom Cruise for his next film Collateral, which was when Mann decided to forgo traditional film, and start shooting in HD. Miami Vice was next and reteamed Mann and Foxx with Colin Farrell's ridiculous haircut and chutzpah. The results were not good. After this Mann seemed to make sure to stick it to the rest of us that missed Miami Vice by getting a producer's credit on the abomination that was Hancock. Let's just say Mann's got a lot of making up to do.
For most of the movie Public Enemies feels like an art film dressed up like a summer blockbuster. The film is shot with the typical handheld cameras and borderline obtrusive closeups that Mann has successfully used to create his distinct style. I have always been fascinated with the way Mann builds suspense through tense dramatic scenes only to explode with action at the drop of a coin, and this technique is certainly on display here. In many ways Public Enemies is a perfect execution of a well developed craft, but I can't stop shaking the feeling that it was missing some action.
Much of the film focuses on Dillinger's apparent instant connection with Billie Frechette, who is played capably by Marion Cotillard. Dillinger is depicted as an overall pretty good guy that is "just having too much fun" to change his reckless ways. While the chase and subsequent caputure of Dillinger occurred in the thick of The Great Depression, you won't see much of that here. The film would feel flat without the historical context and big names of Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson, which in turn makes it seem like a bit of a crutch. In fact all the movie really seems to feature are law enforcement members with dangerously slicked back hair, bank robbers with dangerously slicked back hair, gangsters with dangerously slicked back hair, and hookers. In many ways the real star of the film is hair gel.
The film is shot beautifully if you can handle the Mann style, the shootout and chase scenes are pretty riveting, and while many of the shots are extremely dark, they certainly make the gun fire pop off the screen. Depp delivers a typically solid performance, granted not as fun as normal, and Bale is fine, albeit overly intense. Billy Crudup gives a pretty fantastic performance as J Edgar Hoover and the rest of the cast somewhat blends into the background.
The pacing makes the movie feel criminally slow at times, but these scenes are usually the calm before a storm of furious action. I will be interested to see if there is an extended director's cut as the robbery scenes are pretty blah. There really is no developed planning we are privy to, and the actual robberies are pretty in and out, so the audience is never really invested in the heists, which is a shame as Mann does this kind of exposition brilliantly in Heat and The Insider.
Overall I liked the movie, although I think it would have been better served to be marketed as a character driven awards type movie, as opposed to the summer action blockbuster. Either way it's a step up from Miami Vice, so nice work Mr. Mann. Oh yeah, and no Jamie Foxx.