Thursday, July 2, 2009

Public Enemies

Directed by Michael Mann, Rated R, Released 2009. Based on real events.

Public Enemies is the based-on-a-true story version of the FBI's investigation and hunt for John Dillinger, a notorious bank robber of the 1930's. The two sides are represented by Christian Bale as the head agent of the FBI and Johnny Depp as John Dillinger. It is a fast paced, heavily plot driven story with dazzling gun fights, ingenious escapes, and masterfully performed strategies from both parties.

Public Enemies is a gangster movie, and it plays hard like a gangster movie. Guns blaze, cars are jumped on and fired out of in that iconic 1930's gangster way, and the women are classy and impeccable. John Dillinger and his gang are unstoppable bank robbers, but find some new competition in the agents of the newly formed FBI. J Edgar Hoover is up to his neck in bad publicity and desperately needs Mr. Melvin Purvis, Christian Bale, to take the Bureau to the next level by stopping Dillinger and his gang. The only problem is that the FBI is full of green-horns who can't keep up with the keen criminal minds of the gangsters.

Its give and take as we watch both sides play their hands, taking turns on both cruelty and sympathy. The gangsters do some expectedly heavy damage to the police and banking worlds, and Mr. Purvis is always playing in the periphery of his name's homophone, 'perverse,' though the other agents are usually the real culprits.

There is so much intrigueing and good about this film that its a real shame that I can't recommend it hands down, but there are two gray areas that I can't seem to get over.

Issue number one, this story is almost entirely plot driven. That's not a bad thing at all. However, we are thrown into the rich life of John Dillinger with none of his integral background given to us other than a title card at the beginning that says the 1930's were the 'golden age of bank robbing.' I feel that this is a mistake. Without crucial information on who this man is, we understand nothing for why we should care about him more than any murderer, which he was. Perhaps it is simply my own ignorance, almost certainly the case, but I will try to add some of the information I wish I had prior to watching this movie at the end of the review or in the comments section.

Issue number two, the hand-held cameras. The movie was going swimmingly, until the last 1/3 of it. Suddenly, in the middle of a gun fight, the cameras change to hand-helds. Not only do the cameras change, but the sound equipment as well. The guns no longer sound like the guns we have been hearing the whole movie, but instead sound like the stunt guns they are actually shooting on set. It starts to feel like a making-of DVD or a History Channel special. It really ruined it for me. It doesn't stop with that scene either, but continues interchanging with the regular camera work for the rest of the movie, making for some very awkward viewing. (update: 10 minutes after posting. explains that what Mann did was use HD digital cameras, and that's why the picture changes. Its effect escaped me, but maybe it won't escape you.)

And that's it for hard complaints. I could disregard my first complaint with the context they give you throughout the movie, but the second one stuck with me. I wish I didn't have to say all of this, because I think it was a great movie, but there we are. If you know better why Mr. Mann chose to do the movie this way, please share, I'd love to be proven wrong. Heck, I'll even blame my local theater.

Rated R for violence (some of the images of gun wounds were pretty graphic), and some minor language.


  1. Homophones & Alliteration in the same sentence! Yep, you make me want to see this movie right away - chiefly by how you describe the FBI team as so green, still trying to define who they are & how they do their job. I've never seen a gangster movie that highlighted that aspect. Fortunately, I'm pretty blind to camera-work, and I've heard so many stories in my life that I sort of automatically fill in the gaps, so neither of those two things is likely to ruin the movie for me. The R-rating gives me pause, though. I guess I've got to get my Clear Play up & running again.

  2. It's DILLINGER, NOT DELLINGER. Don't quit your day job.

  3. I completely agree with this review, and i can tell you have a good sense of movies. I read this review before i saw the movie, and i have to agree, the HD digital camera shots weren't quite my thing. I really enjoyed 28 days later which was entirely shot in HD digital, but for this type of movie artistry and trendiness isn't what it needed. Why would the 30's look like digital footage? basically really good home footage? the 30's would look old and drab, an affect perfectly captured by film. So I don't know, and they actually used a lot more HD Digital than stated in this review, i noticed it throughout the whole movie. Overall it was still worth the money i spent for it, just a bit lengthy though...

  4. Not a bad review, fella. If you get the urge to review something of a different media (food, tech, music, etc.), we'll be happy to help you out.