Tuesday, 30 June 2009

[207] Public Enemies (2009) Review

Public Enemies is shaping up to be one the summer's biggest films. If last night's premiere was anything to go by, it seems that the pairing of Depp and Bale is going to attract plenty of punters outside of Michael Mann's target audience. Reviews are still popping up, with early aggregators showing opinion to be slightly divided (at least beyond one or two overly hyperbolic write-ups) - but it will do well nevertheless, and maybe garner Depp another Academy Award nomination. I didn't take to it too well. You can read my review below.

Public Enemies is the story of John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), one of the top crooks that terrorised police forces and thrilled the American public during the Great Depression era.

Dillinger, and contemporaries such as Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham), were mythologised by the media and became folk heroes due to their anti-authoritarian escapades.

These interstate bandits transcended the jurisdictions of local police, in turn seeing the rise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) at the helm.

This 1920s-1930s era of crime, termed by the film as a 'Golden Age', has been mined solidly by American cinema over the years, in both fictionalised and historically-accurate accounts. Gangster and crime films are also some of the most successful, critically lauded and zeitgeist-grabbing, such as the pre-Hays Code grit of James Cagney in The Public Enemy, Arthur Penn's landmark New Hollywood meditation, Bonnie And Clyde, and Brian De Palma's zinging 1980s romp, The Untouchables.

Mann's approach to Public Enemies is unique and admirable, but almost damned from the outset. The narrative is classic crime drama: Dillinger robs banks with a theatrical flair, and easily outwits any cops that are lucky enough to apprehend him. While pilfering the vaults, he refuses to take the money of everyday citizens, cooking up a reputation of an early 20th Century Robin Hood; this softer interior is mirrored in his relationship with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), a coat checker in a Chicago hotel. Their romance flourishes as Dillinger's luck starts to run out, and as he is pursued to the death by FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale).

Read the full article here.

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