Johnny Depp will always have a certain appeal and with his latest starring role as John Dillinger in Michael Mann‘s Public Enemies, he doesn’t disappoint. Normally when you go check out a flick its because of a combination of reasons. The trailer looks interesting, you’ve read some news and it stars some recognizable names who’s work you’ve enjoyed in the past. Well, it was a combination of all of these things that got me to sit in the theater for two and a half hours last night and watch this one. I had read a lot about the style Mann was going to shoot Public Enemies in and all of the historic Chicago elements, but while I was sitting and watching I started to notice a few other things that would have been interesting to know before going in.
First up, I found the story lag quite a bit. Think of it as a streaming video where a lot is happening and all of a sudden it pauses and you get the “buffering,” message. Public Enemies is like that. I understand that Mann was hindered by the actual biographical elements, but I felt that the pacing really hurt this flick from the beginning. There are tons of great gun fights and chase scenes throughout, but because the pacing was a little slow, some of them went by almost unnoticed. Usually action is there to speed up the pace, but I felt as though Mann used his dramatic shots to slow things down. I guess its just a matter of perspective.
Performance-wise I felt this was a pretty good cast. Depp played Dillinger as the rogue celebrity very well and I thought Christian Bale put on one of his best American accents in a while. I think Billy Crudup actually steals a few scenes in this flick as well. The character of JE Hoover was always going to be a delicate piece of the puzzle as he is both the leader of the Bureau and Dillinger’s enemy. Crudup looked the part as well as pulled off a balance between moral protagonist and enemy. Marion Cotillard was also quite strong in her performance as Dillinger’s love interest Billie Frechette especially in one of the more memorable interrogation scenes.
What Public Enemies missed was the character stories beyond Dillinger. Bale’s Melvin Purvis started off great, but as the film went on, I really started to question his motivation. But this wasn’t the only character that could have used a bit more as a lot of them dive in and out of the story without a lot of explanation. I understand that this was strictly a Dillinger tale, but I think Mann could have made a more entertaining film if he centered the majority of the story around the bank robberies, gun battles and the lifestyle of a rogue criminal. Also, blink and you’ll miss Channing Tatum‘s Pretty Boy Floyd and Giovanni Ribisi‘s Alvin Karpis.
Visually I thought Michael Mann did an amazing job. I never grew up during the depression so watching old movies and reading through old noir tales is my only way of imagination the times. I think Mann pulled off a pretty good little flick that showed the classic style, the personality of the US and the drive for identity throughout. The other very impressive component to Public Enemies was the sound. I normally don’t comment on a lot of the technical things in movies, but I think the sound is definitely worth mentioning. Gun shots are LOUD and if you fall asleep during some of the slower parts, Mann will wake you with gun fire.
I would give Public Enemies a solid 7 out of 10 Penguins on the flightless bird scale. It wasn’t great as I felt a lot of the story was missing, but at the same time I’m a sucker for period pieces. Check it out if you’ve got some time over the next few weeks. Johnny Depp is Johnny Depp and Christian Bale is Christian Bale. Don’t expect anything amazing and you’ll walk away satisfied with a pretty good biopic.