Friday, July 3, 2009

Review: Public Enemies (2009)

Public Enemies
2009
140 minutes
Rated R

By Scott Mendelson

I'm not among those who thinks that Michael Mann walks on water, but I've never been outright bored by any of his pictures until today. No, I didn't care for the HD video (it occasionally resembled those straight-to-DVD horror titles that Lionsgate used to put out). And, when I'm paying for a first-run movie ticket on opening weekend, I should not have to struggle to hear important expository dialogue even while wearing my hearing aids (this may be the world's first big-budget mumblecore action drama).

Johnny Depp gives one of his most boring performances, with next to no charm or charisma that would explain why the masses were so willing to protect John Dillenger back in the day. And, yes the film is way too-long at 140 minutes. This may be heresy in the critical community, but Michael Mann needs to learn to get his action-dramas down to 125 minutes or less (Collateral and Manhunter wouldn't have worked at 140 minutes either). This is decidedly not an epic story, so it does not benefit from a near-epic running time.

And the digital video left me often wondering who was shooting at whom (especially during an otherwise tense and well-choreographed night time shoot-out). Sad to say, I had no better luck telling who was who than I did during Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But the two biggest problems are simple ones. First of all, and this relates to my feelings on Mann's Ali, is that I learned nothing about John Dillinger. I don't demand that a historical film be a glorified book report, but I'd like to leave a film knowing a little more about the person than I did when I went in.

Second of all is that this film is primarily about John Dillenger. Don't let the trailers fool you, Christian Bale's pursuing federal agent has far less screen-time than Depp. That would be fine and dandy, except the material focusing on Bale's attempts to catch Dillinger in the earliest days of the FBI is far more entertaining and interesting than Depp's routine 'outlaw on the run' story arc. This is generally a slow, uneventful, uninsightful movie that is punctuated only by a few solid action beats. This isn't Heat. Heck, this isn't even the underrated Miami Vice.

Grade: C

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed! Fully! I considered this to be 3 stellar shootouts surround by a ho-hum storyline. I was entertained...but won't even probably ever think to show anyone or pick this up again.

-Brandon

John B said...

Minor, but you misspelled "Dillinger" in the last paragraph...

I, too, was bored with this movie. I'm glad to know it wasn't just me who was unable to understand what the actors were saying, especially in the critical opening scenes. I didn't understand why John Dillinger fell so hard for Billie Frechette, why this supposedly brilliant man would be so bone-headed.Given that this relationship didn't really exist in real life (at least, not as depicted in the movie), tacking it on seems very forced.

Another issue with historical (in)accuracies: why have Pretty Boy Floyd killed before Dillinger? Why depict his killing in a wholly fictional way (time of day, who fired the shots)? Why have George Nelson killed at Little Bohemia? Dramatic license, I suppose, but unnecessary.

In short, it could have been a much better movie. Excellent source material; why force the romantic angle?

John B said...

Minor, but you misspelled "Dillinger" in the last paragraph...

I, too, was bored with this movie. I'm glad to know it wasn't just me who was unable to understand what the actors were saying, especially in the critical opening scenes. I didn't understand why John Dillinger fell so hard for Billie Frechette, why this supposedly brilliant man would be so bone-headed.Given that this relationship didn't really exist in real life (at least, not as depicted in the movie), tacking it on seems very forced.

Another issue with historical (in)accuracies: why have Pretty Boy Floyd killed before Dillinger? Why depict his killing in a wholly fictional way (time of day, who fired the shots)? Why have George Nelson killed at Little Bohemia? Dramatic license, I suppose, but unnecessary.

In short, it could have been a much better movie. Excellent source material; why force the romantic angle?

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