Archive for the ‘Stephen Dorff’ Category

MOVIE: Public Enemies (2009)

July 27, 2009

I’ve never been much of a Michael Mann fan. His movies always seem sort of the same to me — heavy focus on manly posturing, not enough focus on the things that make characters interesting.  Like, for example, their character.

I thought this movie MIGHT have a shot at being different, though, because it stars Johnny Depp, who has rarely failed to impress me (speak not to me of Secret Window), and because a movie about John Dillinger seemed pretty aptly timed, given the current state of American finances.  I wondered how Mann might try to connect the two — how he might portray Dillinger as a product of his time, and, in so doing, posit that we might be driving some of our own most troubled of souls in the same direction.  Something to that effect anyway.  Something sort of timely and interesting.  Or, well. . . I don’t know what I expected, exactly.  But I do know this much:  I didn’t expect this movie to suck quite as much as it ended up sucking.

The film opens with one of John Dillinger’s famed escapes from prison, this time busting out not only himself but several members of his gang.  From there, it takes us through the thirteen months that came in between that escape and Dillinger’s death, through a series of pursuits, near-arrests, deadly gun battles, and his codependent relationship with a young woman named Billie Frechette (played by Marion Cotillard).

There are, as is often the case with these types of movies, two separate paths for the story — one is Dillinger’s path and the other is that of the man trying to catch him, a young FBI agent named Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), hand-selected to lead the Dillinger task force by none other than J. Edgar “Don’t Call it ‘Vacuuming'” Hoover himself.

Now, here’s where things get kind of complicated.  I can see where Michael Mann was trying to take this movie, I think.  There’s a long history of movies about famous criminals that all sort of work the same way — The Untouchables and 3:10 to Yuma both kept springing to mind while I watched this one, for example.  In those films, both the good guy and the bad guy are broken down into pieces for the audience.  We start to understand what it is that drives the hero — what makes him work so hard to stop the villain, regardless of personal cost.   On the other side, we are shown the true nature of the villain himself — he might be vicious, he might be cruel, he might rape, rob, or steal, but deep down inside, he too is just a man with a history.

We usually end up with roughly the same epiphany at the end — the two men on the two sides are actually the same man, but for circumstances that drove them in opposite directions.  Reminds me of that line from Capote:  “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.”

I could tell from early on in the picture that Mann had no interest in taking Public Enemies in that direction.  A few elements of Dillinger’s childhood are touched on lightly — he reveals his mother died when he was young and his father used to beat him, for example.  A few elements of Billie’s past are also briefly lit, in an attempt, I gather, to show us the extent of her vulnerability and explain why she would become so loyal to John, and so quickly.  And maybe something here and there for Purvis too — an agent in so far over his head even treading water seems fairly futile most of the time.

But that kind of stuff is not the actual heart of this movie.  Instead, this movie is just about . . . well. . . shoot-outs and cool cars, I guess.   Instead of sticking to the formula, Mann shook the formula off with a bitchy temper and then sort of forgot to put something back in its place.  So, what we’re left with is a bunch of running around and violence, with a few little laughs here and there (I’ll confess I did love it when John walked right into the Dillinger Task Force HQ and asked what the score of the ball game was), and almost no substance whatsoever.

Did I want the same old movie?  I don’t know — maybe I did.  But I would’ve settled for something else if only it had had any intensity or power whatsoever.  I mean, even Depp seemed like he was bored a good 9/10ths of the time.  There was no spirit to his role or anybody else’s — there was just nothing.  Nothing.

Go for the scenery if you plan to go at all.  Good looks are all this movie has going for it, I’m afraid.

[Pre-queue me at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama, Action
Cast:  Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard, Christian Bale, Channing Tatum, Stephen Dorff, Billy Crudup, Giovanni Ribisi, Emilie de Ravin, Leelee Sobieski