Review: Public Enemies

Well, I finally got around to watching Public Enemies, the film about John Dillinger that starred Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as FBI Agent Melvin Purvis. I had high hopes for this film, primarily because Michael Mann directed the film. Mann, in my opinion, is one of if not the best director in the last twenty years.

Sadly, I came away from the film feeling disappointed.

It was not the acting that bothered me. Far from it, both Depp and Bale delivered the stunning performances that you would expect from actors of their caliber. Bale absolutely shines as the dedicated yet way out of his league agent that is Purvis, whilst Depp captures the essence, if not necessarily the soul, of the legendary gangster. My only complaint here is that I don’t think Bale’s character was given quite enough time on screen.

Mann has recently become controversial for his cinematography techniques in the last few years, primarily because he seems to use a Steadicam less and less often in his films, which leads to a picture that can be quite jerky rough at times. While this doesn’t bother me quite as much as it does other people, I do think the technique was overused in this film; previously, Mann had limited it to the action scenes and shootouts that he is famous for, giving them a realistic feeling of chaos and confusion. Here, however, it seems as if most of the film was shot without Steadicam, for no real reason that I can discern.

This leads me to another thing I found lacking in the film; Mann’s famous shootouts. Michael Mann is famous for his realistic, heart-stopping action sequences, his two most famous being the infamous bank shootout in Heat and Tom Cruise’s gunning down of the two muggers in Collateral. With the exception of the Little Bohemia shootout, this film was virtually devoid of the action that is Mann’s trademark.

What bothered me most about the film was the character’s. Traditionally, the character’s in Michael Mann’s films have had an incredible amount of depth to them, with back-stories so detailed and personalities so dynamic that they seem to be real people. Sadly, both Dillinger and Purvis lack this realistic depth. While they are not two-dimensional characters by any stretch, compared to Mann’s other works, they feel flat, almost to the point of being uninteresting.

Public Enemies, I would have to say, is overall a good movie. Unfortunately, it is not a great movie, and it nowhere near the usual quality of Michael Mann’s films. If you haven’t already seen it, I would say maybe give it a watch if you like gangster films or are a fan of either Johnny Depp or Christian Bale, but avoid it if you’re a Michael Mann fan, otherwise you will come away, as I did, sorely disappointed with both the film and Mr. Mann.

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