Friday, July 03, 2009

"Public Enemies" (2009) - Movie Review

It all comes down to the Biograph theatre in “Public Enemies”. Dillinger (Johnny Depp) along with a mistress (Leelee Sobieski) and the pimp Anna Sage (Branka Katic) watches “Manhattan Melodrama” with Clark Gable as a gangster. He watches with a smile and a message syncing personally to him from the film. It is obvious that he sees Gable’s character to him but there is an odd bit of realization that this might be it. This is where the alley ends and there is nothing but garbage and sure death amongst it. Beyond the battle fights and shaking camera, Michael Mann’s film gets that across when we watch the film with John Dillinger.

The fascination towards the personalities in the dexterity of crime from the public is voyeuristic and the yearning to vicariously live through them. Not the serial killers but especially someone who seem to hit the underbelly of the contempt of the public. In Dillinger’s case, it was the riches in the times of Great Depression. When the person on the streets crawled and begged to get a menial job to feed their family, the sight of the glamour gets to them. A man who could stick it to the “man” becomes an idol. Dillinger did the robbing of bank with style, swift and perfection. Mann’s man, here Depp does it like a well trained and perfected acrobat on the high swings.

The anit-hero sentiments were used in analogy of the cop and thief, often times. It was the same director who brought Al Pacino and Robert De Niro to what might be described as the film that was meant to be for those two versatile performers. That was “Heat. In that both the characters Pacino’s ruthless flawed cop and De Niro’s merciless but professional crook acknowledge the existence of them on understanding the others. Previous year film “American Gangster” brought Russell Crowe as the cop with a personal life crumbling while Denzel Washington’s drug lord prospers in family merriness. Then there is the film I loved in 2008, “The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford” gave the admiration and obsession of Casey Affleck’s Robert Ford towards the outlaw legend Jesse James played with an eerie sympathy by Brad Pitt. All the men breaking the law and living the life of death game sense the end. That realization is the success of the films I mentioned and importantly like and have a sympathy for the devil in them. John Dillinger in “Public Enemies” earns it, though after lot of ragged shots and ear breaking gunslinging in the literal war between Agent Melvin Purvis’ (Christian Bale) men and him.

Mann does not make it easy to sit through the near to two and half hour film. He makes the Dillinger a sensible criminal. He does not like bloodshed but does not hesitate to shoot when the bullet from the cops welcomes him. For him it is the daring thrill and what comes along is the price he is willing to take. His philosophy in such a dangerous hold up and life is not explained much. Him and his trusted man John “Red” Hamilton (Jason Clarke) share the wisdom of their mentor of how to stay away from desperate men and they become one as the nature of their crime brings bad name to big syndicate criminals.

Dillinger sees Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and he madly is in love. He is demanding and decides this rough future for her. She is charmed and is curious enough to get her attracted to him. He says who he is and she laughs. She does not leave because of fear in their first meet but is upset for his attention going some where else for few minutes. He comes back later and asks to promise her to never leave her while beating a man for interfering the conversation. She is not petrified but as the public looking for that brilliance in his dare goes with him.

We know something of a little about Dillinger’s personal life but nothing about the cop Melvin Purvis. He is a dedicated young agent mocked by the personality of Dillinger. But Dillinger makes the law and order enforcement of the country a fool. He exasperates J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) and brings a shadow of self doubt in the small time he talks with Melvin. The only emotional response going underneath the face of Purvis is seeing his men getting shot and left in pool of blood. We know nothing about Melvin Purvis other than that he is determined and dedicated to the job and sells his soul when he is desperate for information. But he cannot take Billie getting tortured by his fellow officer. That is his limit.

“Public Enemies” depends on that Biograph theatre scene, without which it would have been a mere display of shoddy camera and deafening loudness of the gun battles. It takes patience in the middle when the tiredness in hunting the man and Dillinger getting into the floors to get some action to make sense of his life gets on to us. The changes in the film is sudden. It is not a forced unexpected entry nor a smoothened transition. We do not know when the reputation brought the Dillinger to the paucity of robbery but it does. Michael Mann’s film is a visually unique despite its nauseating docudrama method. As much as the final sequence is the film’s cornerstone, to arrive there without the road Mann takes, it would have been worthless shots of a passionate director. That journey makes it the killer shot for the film and “Public Enemies” survives.

No comments: