Movie review: Public Enemies

peI am a huge mark for Michael Mann, so I have been eagerly anticipating his take on John Dillinger, especially with Johnny Depp stepping into the lead role. No one does crime sagas better than Mann (heck, I even liked “Miami Vice”), so this seemed like a potential home run.

And while it doesn’t compare to “Heat” or “Collateral,” “Enemies” is a fine addition to Mann’s ouevre, although it isn’t exactly the kind of rip-roaring action extravaganza the ads might suggest.

It’s actually a weird kind of genre upon itself – history lesson interspersed with insane amounts of gunfire.

Mann takes a thoughtful, but very straightforward approach to Dillinger’s final years – there’s no conjecture about what drove the man to compulsively rob banks, nor is there any sense of worry or fear as Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and the FBI close in on him.

There’s no sense of history, either. We’re dropped into 1933 and that’s that. Even the film’s love story between Dillinger and Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) is just there – you don’t really know why Dillinger is so in love with Billie; he just is.

If you can accept that you’re not going to get a ton of depth, then you’ll enjoy the film for what it is – an extended chase scene between Dillinger and Purvis.

Mann has long been at the forefront of digital cinema, and he use of ultra high-def cameras gives the film an intimate feeling. You actually get the sense you’re sitting in the car with the Dillinger gang instead of watching a film about them.

And I’ve gotta big up the sound department – the copious amount of bullets fired here take a life of their own, whizzing, pinging and thudding throughout the theater.

You can tell how much Mann is held in high esteem because there are a ton of familiar faces (Giovanni Ribisi, Leelee Sobieski, Shawn Hatosy, Emilie de Ravin and Channing Tatum) that show up in throwaway roles that would normally be filled by aspiring no-names. But for a chance to work with one of the top directors in the biz, I guess you take any role you can get.

Depp has no problem pulling off the suave, man-of-action Dillinger, but as the character essentially is a cipher, it’s not a particularly showy role. Bale’s hard-charging Purvis is of a similar vein – his focus never shifts from catching Dillinger, so Bale doesn’t get a chance to show us anything but dogged determination.

And so, it’s Cotillard who brings the most to the able. Billie has the most emotional baggage to carry, and Cotillard brings tremendous warmth to what could have been a typical girlfriend role, although Mann has always done a decent job with women in his films.

In the end, “Enemies” is a good film and not a great one because of its stripped-down nature. Sometimes we want to know more, need to know more, and Mann and Co. refuse to show their cards.

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~ by Elliott on July 16, 2009.

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