Sunday, December 13, 2009

Public Enemies: Grade D

Public Enemies (2009)

Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard; Co-writer and Director Michael Mann.

It’s gangsters in 1930’s Chicago doing gangstery things. Have we not seen this before? Street battles with tommy guns, bank robberies, lovely cars and costumes, art deco interiors, tough guy talk, prison breaks, the incorruptible FBI agent in obsessive pursuit, and every other period gangster cliché you can think of – it’s all here. There is absolutely nothing new.

Depp is John Dillinger, notorious bank robber and Bale is his FBI nemesis with a bizarre, ludicrous, and totally unnecessary southern accent. I thought, with all these big stars, what could go wrong? Bad script, that’s what. It is so wooden and unimaginative that the actors have no chance of bringing it to life. Story? What story? FBI pursues bank robber, shoots him dead. There is no suspense whatsoever and the characters are two-dimensional cutouts.

The film’s 2:20 running time is unconscionable, especially since the first hour could be eliminated with no loss. Sure, you would miss a shoot-em-up bank robbery, but there are two others, almost identical to look at later. The only thing that keeps this movie from complete failure is the fine photography of excellent, detailed sets. The pictures are crisp and creatively shot, compelling to watch. The sepia colors are overdone, but pleasant and moody, some even fading to black and white to remind you that this is a quasi-biography “based on” Dillinger’s life (even though we learn nothing about him). When the colors are not sepia, they are through a green filter, which is less attractive, but still interesting. There is some good period music, Billie Holiday and the like, but some of it seems anachronistically modern and unconnected. That’s not much to recommend a film with so much resource behind it, but that’s all there is behind the muzzle flash.

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