Saturday, October 24, 2009

Public Enemies (2009)


John Dillenger (Johnny Depp) robs a series of banks during the 1930s with his loyal gang, all the while falls in love with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard). Meanwhile J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) creates a special task for in his up and coming FBI, headed by Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to catch Dillenger.

If you had told me last year at this time that a film with this much talent, with such great writing would be this underwhelming I would probably have lambasted you and laughed... and I would have been oh so wrong. Bale, Depp, Cotillard, Wenham, Crudup, Dorff, Ribisi, Ortiz, and Lang... there's so much perfect casting in this film you'd think even Uwe Boll could manage mediocrity. Mann is skilled with the penn, Bennett has talent but not creative, and Biderman completes the triple writing team that penned a hell of a script. Wonderfully realistic, and overly unrealistic at the same time (mostly just dates moved around to put emphasis on Dillenger). Both pro and anti gang violence, both pro and anti police, there's nothing about the script that ever screams out anything but classic.

And then there's Mann, the director. The man who thrilled us with his epic, Heat, captivated us with Last of the Mohicans, captivated us with his dark thriller, Collateral, and created a legend in Ali... what happened!? After Collateral Mann seems to have lost something, and I can't honestly say what the hell it is! Trying so hard to be "Mannish" he's managed to be choppy, overly forced, and using absurd camera angles in the most unnecessary situations. I can't even begin to count the amount of times the camera literally took me out of the film at the height of the film's drama and action sequences. Random extreme closeups, room pans mid-gun fire, quick cuts during the middle of a sentence, who is behind the putting together of this final product... for all the quality shown it feels so amateurish.

Now perhaps this is because Mann doesn't have too much confidence in the story, which could carry the film all on its own, he seems all too concerned with pacing, and tries to avoid slow moments. It's unfortunate because the films few moments in which he isn't panning, quick cutting, flopping the camera around, etc. are some of the film's highlight moments. It seems as if by the end of the film Mann has calmed down a bit with his camera use, but by then it's far too late, and it's far too unfortunate. There's just too much going on behind the camera for the audience to get absorbed in what's going on in front of it... a truly sad day.

Despite some great storytelling and action, Mann's surprisingly unsteady hand behind the camera takes most of the wind out of the sails.

2 better thoughts:

TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

I thought the way the movie was filmed made it unique. Frankly I like the shaky camera and other strange shots. It made the film feel more like a documentary, as if you weren't watching a story but actually following the characters around. It's still one of my favorite films of the year.

Chase Kahn said...

This is one of my favorite of the year, as well. Absolutely loved it. I didn't get a sense of that camera disorientation that you did, and found the digital look of the film (I guess you can't call it actual 'film') transportative and immersive. It literally "took" me to the 30's.

It's really a minimally-scoped, straight-forward kind of film about mood and style and most importantly, mortality. You have the hesitant, squeaky-shoed Purvis (Bale) against the cocky, always moving, never concerened, seemingly immortal Dillinger (Depp). It's a beautiful dichotomy.

Plus the closing scene in the movie theater ("Manhattan Melodrama"), where Dillinger actually reflects back on his life and comes to terms with it through Clark Gable Blackie Gallagher character is beautiful.

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