Thursday, 25 June 2009

Public Enemies Review

Well, the press embargo has been lifted and I can indulge you with my review of Public Enemies, which I saw at a screening hosted by the lovely chaps at Universal. It was at the Soho Hotel and they even fed us - mind you, I am not used to this kind of treatment so I was duly impressed!

Off the bat the screening suffered from being projected in 35MM. This film NEEDS to be seen in digital projection to fully appreciate the way it was made. If anything, the 35mm makes it seem like there is something wrong with the film. Thankfully, we'll be screening it digitally so I can't wait to see it again the way the director intended!

No matter what Michael Mann says, this is Heat Redux. Heat with Hats. Heat: the prequel. And that's a good thing. Heat is one of my favorite films of all time and the reason I am a Manniac. The plot and dramatic drive of the film are closely related to that 1995 masterpiece. The principal difference here, apart from the period setting, which he typically captures down to the last detail, is the huge stylist leap he takes by shooting the whole thing in high def digital, rather than film.

While Mann has dabbled in the technology since ALI in 2001, this is the first time he has abandoned film stock altogether. The result, combined with the return of cinematographer Dante Spinotti, with whom he collaborated on every film from Manhunter to The Insider, is one of the most dazzling works of cinematic camera work I have ever seen. The bleached out, dry effect of the digital lenses in the shining broad daylight helps drive home the period, and the nighttime sequences, particularly the shootouts, are spectacular because of the medium's capacity to capture light in a way film could never achieve.

Johnny Depp uses his million-dollar charm to make Dillinger a more sympathetic character than the real life version probably deserves. Bale thankfully abandons the raspy Batman voice and happily blends into the background as committed G-Man Purvis. Billy Crudup gives us hints of the hoover we later learned to hate without telegraphing the sleaze. Beyond the star-studded cast, the supporting players are outstanding, including a couple of refugees from The Wire (Domenick Lombardozzi, Peter Gerety) and Stephen Lang, longtime collaborator of the director, in an outstanding performance and FBI agent Winstead.

Critics argue that Mann's undisputed technical prowess distances him from his characters. I think that like Kubrick, that detachment is in the end more revealing and rewarding than the more immediate payoff. Al Pacino or DeNiro would have (and did in Heat) make the parts more their own. Depp and Bale are putty in the filmmaker's vision.

So, from my own personal perspective; another amazing Michael Mann film. From a commercial perspective, I think that without Depp and Bale this would have a really hard time finding an audience. Running time, subject matter and pace all run opposite the modern trends of popcorn blockbusters.


  1. You only go in a little, who gave the better performance , Depp or Bale?

  2. Hard to say. The performances don't really fit a traditional 'acting' show like you'd find in most films. The leads keep their emotions boiling under the surface, which is I think why the reviews have been mixed. People expect Depp to be camp and over the top, and Bale to be hypermasculine. In that sense they play against type and in doing so, add to the shelflife of this film in the long term.

  3. It's a thrilling movie, and after watching such an honorable portrayal, one finds it hard to believe that dear Johnny Dillinger was one of America's most notorious criminals.