Granted this movie has been out a while but hey, I got to see it late and I think its certainly worth some attention. Especially from anyone done with Harry Potter (either before or after seeing the new one) or turned off by talking rodent spies who needs a flick this weekend.
Public Enemies, is the story of famous Depression Era Gangster John Dillinger (Johnny Depp for anyone who hasn't seen the massive and only poster advertising). The movie is directed by Michael Mann who created what I could argue is the greatest crime movie ever (that is if I could ever pick just one myself).
Public Enemies was tremendously engrossing in its sheer refusal to be the typical overly polished biopic flick where all the actors carry themselves around with such reverence you often forget they're playing what was once a real person who was simply flesh and blood like any of us. The film, the actual print, is barely treated and looks on par with British television. A lot of people might find the film looks at times like it was shot with a camcorder. Maybe it was (probably not). But honestly, I love the effect. Its nice to see night shots that actually look like they're at night in its pure form and not carefully and dramatically lit. Believe me, nothing is more dramatic than a realistic night chase scene through the woods teeming with trigger ready enemies waiting to put you down.
Instead of being lectured like a school session, this film gets you in on the action and Dillenger's downright balls to the wall lifestyle right off the bat. The man clearly was not meant for a regualr type life and, even as a criminal, took things as far as he could. Depp plays Dillinger as he does all his characters: unaware that he happens to be Johnny Depp and could possibly phone in a performance now and then like most big names. But of course he doesn't. I often forget Depp is playing the characters he plays even when he looks like he essentially always does. In this film he's understated without losing the little quirks and details that make his performances so enjoyable. Depp's Dillenger lives with an internal struggle to be himself in a world where being himself puts him at odds with just about everyone in authority. And yet, the man was popular enough with regular folk trying to survive the Depression in much the same way Bonnie & Clyde were. All of this is evident in his performance without having to resort to any over theatrics. Depp knows when a well timed smirk is all Dillenger needed to express himself.
Bale plays famous FBI law man Melvin Purvis as he does all his characters: as if not moving a facial muscle is the same as depicting a stoic, strong silent type. Even Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry grimaced, smirked, and increased/decreased a few degrees of his always furrowed brow. I still find Bale likeable in most roles but it is getting a little old seeing Batman in everything. And I love Batman. Especially Bale's. Somehow, though, he's losing a little bit of the otherwise perfect range he brought to Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
The two characters play a bit of cat and mouse but not in the typical contrived Hollywood style with witty exchanges and fantastic one liner's no cop or gangster comes up with on the fly. Their war is fought much more so on the front pages, in the form of reputation and public opinion rather than with bullets, although there's plenty of those too. Speaking of bullets, let me just say that the sound crew did an amazing job creating great bursts that send a jolt up your spine and smashing punches as bullets pound the scenery. It created a very real atmosphere where gunfire, even when you know its coming, is startling and takes getting used to.
Where Dillinger is without authority, Pervis is exploited by a PERFECTLY depicted J. Edgar Hoover by the always fun to watch Billy Crudup. I felt bad for Purvis as he tried his best to do his job: catch the bad guys. The man had little to know interest in anything else, let alone being made a very public hero. Still, I wasn't sure I wanted him to catch Dillinger either since, in classic Heat fashion, Mann makes sure to cover both sides fairly and without judgement. This is one of Mann's best qualities, his ability to tell you a story like its playing out before your eyes and a writer hasn't had time to throw in the typical grandiose/heart string tugging/sensationalism that I, personally, see in most films of this nature.
Slice of life is, without a doubt, the best way to describe Public Enemies. We get to know everyone, we get to feel what everyone is feeling and we get all of it in a very real time method of story telling; easily allowing me to get lost and engulfed in both the characters, the era, and the lives involved. In an era of economic unrest dangling dangerously close to the Great Depression (closer than ever before at any rate) this film could not have come out at a better time.