Public Enemies (Devil’s Advocate Review)
This is my second film this week exploring the criminal element on screen and why we are so fascinated by wrong doers and the wrong they do. Now, with The Godfather all I had to worry about was the mafioso banging down my door for retribution if I didn’t give it a favorable review. This time around I’m treading lightly, because the much more dreaded Bank Robbers Association Of America is lurking about and I don’t want to step on their toes.
Public Enemies, isn’t new territory for many, but can be for others. For those unfamiliar, it follows the exploits of John Dillinger, played by Johnny Depp, and his wild gang of outlaws. While on a raucous ride of bank robbing, boozing, and chasing skirts, Dillinger falls in love with Billie Frechette, played beautifully by Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard. Well, this proves problematic because as we all know dames and bank robbing don’t mix (except for Bonnie and Clyde). The relationship causes Dillinger to become sloppy, which allows Melvin Purvis, portrayed with brooding intensity by Christian Bale, to pick up his trail easier.
The story plays out pretty much how you would expect, but it unfolds very neatly, like fine linen. One major qualm I have is that there was far too much mechanically inserted foreshadowing. Characters ponder their fate only to have the exact thing they spoke of occur within moments: “I don’t think I’m long for this world…AAAARRRRRGGGG! He got me, that dirty rat.” And it doesn’t happen just once. It was an epidemic in this film. Don’t get me wrong, foreshadowing is great, when used sparingly, and given time to develop into something. Plus, don’t forget, the element of surprise is still alive and well, and asks that it be used once in a while.
With each passing generation, more and more, we have learned how to deal with our youth better. Apparently, the makers of Public Enemies haven’t caught on to this new maxim, which is made obvious by the treatment of it’s young stars. Droves of burgeoning talent are seen in this film, but barely. Tatum Channing, Leelee Sobieski, Emilie De Ravin, and Giovanni Ribisi (who is getting up there, but still has that youthful look) have minuscule roles in the film, each appearing for only a moment or two. I guess director Michael Mann adheres to the old school adage, “Children should be seen and not heard.”
Lastly, the filmmakers utilized digital cameras in order to give the film a more realistic and gritty look, which they succeed at for the most part. One problem I have with it is the dark scenes are way too muddy looking, and it becomes difficult to tell characters apart from one another. Another issue I had, which is more a function of the camera work than the camera itself, was the framing of the shots. The close-ups were way too close. People’s bodies and heads were half in frame and half out. And at one point, the auto focus on the camera kicks in, which is something I expect to see in wedding footage, not a big budget film. The photography doesn’t ruin the film, but it is quite distracting.
Public Enemies suffers from over indulgent writing and photography, but it certainly isn’t terminal. A little more Vitamin Y (short for Young Hollywood), certainly could ease some of the suffering, but it is by no means a cure. As Devil’s Advocate I give the film 2 out of 5 pitchforks.
In reality, I enjoyed the film, but it wasn’t the epic I had hoped for. Above I spoke of what the film suffered from, and I would say this film suffered from my horribly high expectations. It was a good film. Depp, Cotillard, and Bale were fantastic. The daytime action sequences were clean and crisp and the sound effects were amazing. If I weren’t Devil’s Advocate this week, the film would easily earn 3 out of 5 pitchforks.