Michael Mann can be a truly brilliant director – amongst his best films would be Heat, Collateral and – now – Public Enemies. Reality is, Miami Vice was problematic, so even though the trailer looked awesome for this, I was a little reserved before watching the film. Not to mention the obvious comparison to Heat. Was Mann doing anything truly original? But I watched this on an fluky orange Wednesday whereby they done the whole two-for-one deal on a preview of Public Enemies. Now I knew I wasn’t going to watch The Hangover and was planning to see Looking for Eric but, alas, it was not being shown. I had been exceptionally excited about this – it appeared to be a real back-to-basics classical Gangster movie – with an exceptional choice for the lead with Johnny Depp. Could it live up to the high-standard I expected? Both ‘Sight and Sound’ and ‘Empire’ had Johnny Depp and his tommy gun spashed all over their covers, while both separately devoting additional column inches to the Gangster genre and the production of the film itself. This was a big event … could it live up to the hype?
What I reckon…
[Note, until I write in these brackety thing again, the majority of this was written soon after watching the film. I think it rambles a little so I shall try and just tack on a concise conclusion and leave it at that] So, I have just arrived back from the cinema – it was hot and sweaty because of the current heatwave in London, but the entire film was breathtaking. The entire film rests on the shoulders of Johnny Depp as the fated gangster John Dillinger. A bank robber in Chicago in the thirties.
Michael Mann has turned to digital camera-work in recent years and in this film is suits the film perfectly in no small part to the cinematography of Dante Spinotti, Mann’s long-time collaborator. Not only do we have the fantastic period sets shown with calm confidence, we also have a rough, edgy, uncontrolled camerawork during the shootouts to contrast it with. Its interesting to note that there are no opening credits – it shows ‘1933’ and then it starts.
Purvis often asks ‘Was that Dillinger?’, ‘Who was that?’ – obssessed with the ‘legend’, also his task of taking down Dillinger himself, following a successful termination of Pretty Boy Floyd. It is truly fascinating how we feel so much – not resentment – but pity for Purvis. To the point that even when Dillinger is killed, we are actually not too fussed about how Purvis feels. We are not introduced to a family, a personal life – we only see him order his ‘Dillinger Squad’ about what to do. Even then, he is often undermined by his Special Agents while also being responsible for his weaker agents deaths – so its no suprise we root for Dillinger: a man who doesn’t steal from the public, he steals from ‘the bank’.
Metro (a local free tabloid paper here in London – and Birmingham and Manchester …) released a review today saying that the film was akin to ‘Miami Vice’. This is absolutely untrue – while you struggled to follow the convuluted plot about drugs and ‘the underground’ and truth and fiction and what not in ‘Miami Vice’, the simple plot in ‘Public Enemies’ gives Mann space to focus on the characters themselves. In a nutshell – its Purvis trying to catch Dillinger – but the anti-hero edge to Dillinger, the persona Depp creates, makes you root for him – even though you know Billie’s prophesizing his death is true, you cannot help but be upset at the expected showdown.
[Okay, the conclusion]. A good friend (Shout out to Rhys BL) told me how he had hoped there would be an extended cut. I did question what he meant and he replied to me about the small role of Gionvanni Ribinisi and Channing Tatum. Why would they hire such top-class actors for such small roles? He had a point. The film lacks the even balance that Heat and Collateral had, and as such, may have been cropped. This was an epic film focussing on Dillinger moreso than any other character. I must admit, I hope there is an extended version with the epic proportion included that, unfortunately, this cut misses the mark on. Sight and Sound noted how the film is somehwere between Mendes Road to Perdition and the Coen’s Millers Crossing, and it is superior to both – but you feel it could have been even more impressive and, who knows, if there is an extended cut, maybe it is…
Quickly – as I scanned the pictures for the poster-picture for this film I saw a comparison with Road to Perdition – its so-o-o similar!