July 1, 2009

It Has Gunfights, Bank Robberies, Car Chases, and Johnny Depp. What Else You Need to Know?

Well, that was welcome diversion. Now that the "big" movie has come out this summer, Hollywood has decided, like it does every year, to start releasing the 'cough' good 'cough' movies again. I guess they figure that once they get all the idiots into one theatre to leer at Megan Fox's bouncing bust area, they've done their job, and start catering to the rest of us, somewhat, intelligent folk. First off the assembly line is Public Enemies, courtesy of Michael Mann. It adds a much needed dose of quality into the summer season while simultaneously being very entertaining. 
So, if you know anything about American history, then you've probably heard of this little time in early to mid 1900s called The Great Depression. In case you don't, it boils down like this. The stock market went belly up, and, all of sudden, people found themselves without jobs, homes, or money. A dollar couldn't buy you shit! So, some people tuned to crime, ushering the largest crime wave in recent memory. The most prolific criminal during this time was John Dillinger, who took down bank after bank, earning the title of Public Enemy Number 1 from the FBI, led by world class scumbag J. Edgar Hoover, and respect and love of millions of people around the country, who viewed him as a modern day Robin Hood. In order to bring down Dillinger, Hoover assigns decorated agent Melvin Purvis to the case. What follows is fascinating 2 1/2 hour trip into 193os America, with all the fedoras, accents, cars, and Tommy Guns. 
Johnny Depp plays Dillinger, and he is sure to get yet another Oscar nomination this year, which he he might even win. His performance as the most renowned criminal in US history is a bona fide tour de force. He drenches Dillinger with charisma, but also makes sure to stay true to the darker side of the man. It's all in the eyes. Depp's Dillinger wants the attention. He wants to be in the spot light, and when he is, he knows how to handle it. Put simply, he makes the character cool. Like, really cool. Like, John Travolta in Get Shorty cool. Well, maybe not, but it comes close. Christian Bale plays Dillinger's opposite, Melvin Purvis. It's vastly different from the gruff, gravely voiced characters we've seen him play in The Dark Knight or Terminator: Salvation, which is a good thing. Bale excels at playing this G-Man who, while on opposite sides of the law from Dillinger, is not so different from him. He wants to hog the camera as much as his target, but, you get the sense that he has become slightly delusional by the power he has, as he bears witness to the brutality allowed by his boss, Hoover, played by a superbly slimy Billy Crudup. It's not Bale's best performance, but it's up there. The last big role falls to Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette, a half Indian, half French-Canadian, coat check girl who Dillinger moves on so hard it terrifies her at first. But then, she falls for his lavish ways, and willfully follows him wherever he goes. Cotillard is sensational as Billie. I still get a little steamed about how she beat out Julie Christie at the Oscars a few years ago, but, I'm gonna let that slide, because she is so friggin' good in this movie! She radiates beauty and fire in every scene she is in. No wonder Depp falls so hard for her. There are a lot of other smaller performances, but I still have to talk about all the other good things in this movie, so, I'll leave them be.
Director Michael Mann is no stranger to the urban crime epic. He gave us Heat, Collateral, and Miami Vice. He sometimes gets hamstrung by weird story and stupid characters in these movies, but, it cannot be denied, he can shoot the hell out of them. Public Enemies is easily his best looking movie yet. Mann shot it all in HD, and with a heavy use of handheld cameras. It actually almost feels like a documentary. That's how good it is. You are there with Dillinger in the 1930s, robbing the banks. You are there with Purvis, suiting up for a raid. Mann transports you into this time, and makes every scene authentic. The amount of realism in this movie is ridiculous, from the clothes, accents, and cars, to the surprisingly brutal violence and the incredibly loud gunshot noises. Let me tell you, the gunshots in this movie are LOUD! The action scenes are the best Mann has done since the spectacular street shootout in Heat. The massive fight between the F.B.I. and Dillinger's gang in Wisconsin is one for the record books. The documentary style deal is good. It shows Mann stepped back and let the actors do their thing, and more power to him for it. He has made one of the best, old fashioned,  gangster movies since Goodfellas. 
The movie has it's problems, sure. For one, there is one scene where Depp and Bale stare down each other through prison bars. The way this movie has been publicized, I went in thinking that that scene would be on par with the amazing diner chat between DeNiro and Pacino in Heat. Not so. That was the only disappointing scene in the movie. Also, the score kind of annoyed me. There was this one point at the very end of the movie, after a pretty emotional line was said, where the music blared up full blast. It turned a genuinely heartbreaking scene into an eye roller. 
Public Enemies is not Mann's best movie. This flick is no Heat. What it is, is one of the best movies of the year, and a return to form for director. Bolstered by the spectacular performance by Depp, Public Enemies rises above the drek to come out in recent weeks, and kicks off the Oscar race a little early this year. It's July 4th weekend. Don't go see Transformers again. See this. You'll be better off.  B+

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