Friday, July 31, 2009

[review] Public Enemies

Public Enemies is about more than just Public Enemy #1.

Marion Cotilliard just takes the cake. She made the movie. She's Dillinger's girlfriend, and just nails the rather naive young woman who falls for the Bad Boy. Through the whole movie, she's believable. From getting stood up (inadvertently) by Dillinger to being interrogated by the FBI. Wow.

It's not like we don't know Johnny Depp is a good actor. [And I'm assuming you know who John Dillinger was.] He plays the Bad Boy, the other Johnny, with panache. From what I've read elsewhere about Dillinger, this seems to be a pretty well-done portrayal. Totally fearless of the law. And, in the script at least, rather witty at times. Christian Bale is Melvin Purvis, the FBI section chief in Chicago tasked with catching him. This is the rigid agent who completely believes the ability of science and organization under the aegis of Hoover is capable of overcoming any criminal. Crudup's Hoover is confronted by a Senate committee inquiring about a man's competence to run a law enforcement agency who has no experience as a cop or lawyer. It gives a vicious pleasure to see such a powerful man who later damaged our society raked over the coals; yet, what he was doing here was critical and beneficial.

Like watching Rome, I was perfectly aware the main character died, and equally like Rome, I wasn't sure if his not-tragic departure from this mortal coil would be included in the movie. Dillinger was killed sometime in the 30s, although I didn't know how/when. So, the movie's end remained an unknown for me throughout the film.

I don't think I noticed earlier that the movie's title is in the plural. Dillinger wasn't alone in the '30s crime spree in the Windy City. Other big-time bank robbers are both here, as are the rest of Dillinger's gang. It's not a one-man show, even if it's a one-man image on the news reels. Bale chasing Depp inadvertently finds Baby Face Nelson, another wanted criminal.

The music was well done, fitting original score with variations on tunes of the time. The setting and costuming was well done. Of course, there's photographic evidence of how people dressed, unlike Elizabeth or Rome. You know, no matter how much blue jeans and a pressed white oxford can look really sexy, there's something aesthetically pleasing about a jacket and tie and hat being standard attire for men.

Now, set design is one thing (well done). Utilization of that design is a completely different story. Perhaps the DOP should have, say, put a full moon on screen to indicate where all of that light is from. Or perhaps realized that running around the Indiana backwoods in 1934 would be far too dark to film. There had to have been a different way to do the same chase scene in a more plausible manner. Plausibility being a serious criteria, given the authenticity of the rest of the film.

And, with the photography, I must mention a strange thing. The feel of the filming kept changing. First it was ordinary, normal movie work: steady camera, and a realistic appearance, the sort of film appearance that lets you put in tons of CGI. The film then abruptly and without apparent rationale jumped to the shoulder-mounted documentary-live action look of Homicide: Life on the Streets or the Blair Witch Project. If you watch a 'making of' segment, they often show the finished film and then cut to images shot next to the main camera to show you what it looked like originally. You see an abrupt change in image quality. That's what was occurring here. I was confused. This didn't appear to be associated with a specific part of the story line or type of action or anything ... it's more like someone didn't notice which film canister she was using to assemble the final product. [side note, The Author mentioned it provided a more 'intimate' feel, to give you, the watcher, a better sense of what it was like for the characters. Cinda has written screenplays - I'll take her word for it.]

And, of course, there was absolutely no shortage of guns, bullets, or shooting. The sort of movie that makes me curious to learn more about the reality behind this 2-hour story.

Healthy Gopher's rating:
2 - definitely go see it in the theater at matinee prices.

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