Alex gives a more level headed view of PUBLIC ENEMIES. He liked it, but didn't love it...

€œWe€™re havin€™ too good a time today, we ain€™t thinking about tomorrow€, states the 1930s outlaw John Dillinger, played by Johnny Depp, in Public Enemies. €œNo future€, wailed Johnny Rotten in 1977. €œCarpe Diem€, as the Ancient Romans would have put it. The sentiment is the same throughout the ages. All that changes is the tone. It€™s that fatalistic yet brave take on life which distinguishes the generation which came up in the interwar period, a generation symbolised to some extent by Dillinger. In the 1930s €œlittle people€ all over the world took absolutely everything the Devil could throw at them €“ economic crisis, a stark choice between unemployment and slave wages, and the worst wars the world has ever witnessed €“ and generally managed to get through it all with their humanity intact. Reminding us of that is one thing Michael Mann€™s new film deserves to be praised for. rop3jporjopjoropjj Although far from perfect, Public Enemies has much else to recommend it. Its view of the Dillinger myth is very similar to the one offered by John Milius€™s Dillinger (1973) €“ perhaps even excessively so. In both films Dillinger is the main focus of attention and is portrayed as a worthy hero of the people, while the FBI G-men who pursue him are cold-blooded killers. (There are two more reviews on this film already up on OWF, so I€™ll spare you yet another synopsis.) The difference is that Public Enemies aims for a much broader scope and includes key figures of the period such as J. Edgar Hoover (founder of the FBI, played by Billy Crudrup) and Frank Nitti (one-time right hand man of Al Capone, played by Bill Camp). This places Dillinger firmly within context and gives audiences a better idea of who this man was, what he was up against and why he became an icon. The deft camerawork that Mann and his habitual lenser Dante Spinotti also adds to this sense of place and purpose. The digitally created look of the film eschews €œanything that feels like the convention of a nostalgic filter€, in Mann€™s own words. The recreation of the period feels natural rather than sepia-tinted, each loving detail adding to the 1930s mood without seeming retrospective. Many critics and fans, including OWF€™s own Mike Edwards, have complained about the shaky steadicam shots which feature in the movie€™s many shootout scenes. It€™s not for everyone, granted €“ one girl I watched the movie with complained about dizziness €“ but it serves a very clear and quite laudable purpose. Rather than let you €œwatch the bullfight from the barrier€, as they say in Spain, Public Enemies invites its audience to get caught up in the chaos and confusion of automatic gunfire. Mann wants you to feel dizzy, shocked and brutalised, because that€™s the effect extreme violence has in real life. eoqjeopjep Unfortunately, the film€™s emotional grab is less potent than its visual impact, historical scope and attention to detail, and it therefore falls short of Mann€™s greatest work (Heat, Collateral, The Last of the Mohicans). No blame can really be attached to the cast for this. Depp is utterly believable as Dillinger, while Christian Bale offers yet another prodigious display of technique as lawman Melvin Purvis. Marion Cotillard plays Dillinger€™s love interest Billie Frechette with great warmth, although she sometimes struggles to keep her native French accent in check and the pair€™s romantic affair is rather run of the mill stuff. The real problem with Public Enemies is that in attempting to portray the era in such detail and with such scope, it seems to have left one half of the equation behind. In Heat we understood and respected the lawmen and the robbers equally because both shared a common sense of honour. In Public Enemies, by contrast, we rarely get to see Purvis and his men as anything but merciless hunters. The supposed conflict between Melvin€™s chivalrous values and the expediency advocated by Hoover, much commented on in promotional interviews, doesn€™t really shine through in the film. Purvis€™s first scene in the movie has him killing Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum), another Depression era outlaw, from behind. He doesn€™t seem to need much encouragement when it comes to brutality. Hoover himself is shown as little more than a crypto-fascist paper pusher with a powerful vision, with an out-of-context reference to Mussolini€™s Italy thrown in for good measure. Dillinger€™s gang has its own in-house nutter in the form of Baby Face Nelson (played with mischievous glee by England€™s own Stephen Graham), but Nelson is rebuked for his murderous antics, which the rest of the gang rightly perceive as bad for business. The worst physical pain we actually see Dillinger mete out comes in the form of a clip round the ear he administers to an impatient client at Frechette€™s workplace. Thus, the film€™s central conflict ends up feeling a tad too simplistic, a case of good guys vs. bad guys. I€™m no expert in 1930s American gangster lore the way Mann is, but life has never been as clear-cut as that. Not even for the great interwar generation. Public Enemies is not a bad film by any means €“ there a lot worse things you could do with your time and money this summer €“ but unfortunately it€™s not the master work that so many of us had hoped for.

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Guest Writer has contributed 339 posts since joining in June 2007.