Release Date: July 1
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Ronan Bennett and Michael Mann
& Ann Biderman
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale,
Cinematographer: Dante Spinotti
Studio/Run Time: Universal Pictures,
20th Century gangsters through a 21st
shoulders at the new Michael Mann, Johnny Depp, Christian Bale film,
Public Enemies, but it’s miles better than Terminator Salvation or
any other gun-blazing film you could pick at random from the first
half of the summer crop. It’s more entertaining, more thought
provoking, and were it shot on film I bet it’d be more acclaimed.
But another trait of these newfangled
cameras is a remarkable field of vision. Several times Mann halves
the screen with a close-up on one side and distant action on the
other. Even in low light, the camera sees both sides in detail. And
the most obvious and tempting trait of the technology is that,
compared to the Panavision boat anchors that guys have been lugging
for decades, these cameras are light as feathers.
Unlike some of his peers, Mann resists
the temptations and holds such features in reserve, bringing them out
like machine guns concealed under a wool topcoat. Public Enemiesstars two of Hollywood’s strong leading men, actors of
diametrically opposed styles, and they both take the job seriously.
Depp isn’t impersonating any skunks or rock stars, and Bale isn’t
shouting needlessly or speaking in an unusually low register. They’re
acting, they’re doing it well, and I only wish they’d been able
to share the screen instead of stewing and smirking in two
counter-posed worlds. Depp is bank robber John Dillinger, on the lam,
and Bale is FBI agent Melvin Purvis, on the hunt. Rarely, but
inevitably, the twain shall meet.
The same could be said for Dillinger
and his sweetheart Billie, a beautiful young woman, played by Marion
Cotillard, whose sexy aura is only enhanced by a willingness to hitch
her wagon to this gangster’s Ford Deluxe. She and Dillinger talk in
a crowded, high-ceiling restaurant, but all the noise around them
drops neatly away. For a moment, they float, just like in the movies.
In a sense, that’s what the film is about: two bodies in a dance or
in a tug of war that will eventually end in mud. Good guys vs. bad
guys, sure, but also film vs. video, real life vs. the movies, free
will vs. determinism, tainted glory vs. tainted glory.
We know from other films that gangsters
love to see themselves on the screen. In an episode of The Sopranos,
Tony sat down to watch James Cagney in The Public Enemywere forever quoting Al Pacino in Godfather III. In this new film,
Babyface Nelson performs his Cagney impression for an unreceptive,
captive, scared-shitless audience. And in the finale, when Dillinger
sees a movie at Chicago’s Biograph theatre, he grins up at Clark
Gable who plays a gangster in Manhattan Melodramaof course, they are. The mustache above Johnny Depp’s smirk matches
Gable’s, even down to the slight tilt.
The story in Public Enemies has already
been told, sometimes in films more exciting but rarely more
thoughtful than this one. Purvis says he’s going to transform the
FBI with new scientific methods and new technology, but technology
can’t suppress human nature, and when he’s pressured Purvis
resorts to beating confessions out of people like they did in the old
days. With its application of visibly new technology, Public Enemies
could nestle comfortably alongside Peter Watkins’ La Commune, a
faux video report about a 19th century event, but this time it’s
the style of an unperfected, 21st century medium that reveals the
pancake make-up of its actors but also conveys a star-crossed romance
that endures, in part because we associate it with a colorful era.
Like the sexiness of a swagger and the unfortunate allure of torture,
This may not be saying much, but for
the first time this summer, the movies are back.