Thursday, July 30, 2009

I was really excited about Public Enemies.

I even used my giftcard to see it on opening night.

The short of it is. . . Public Enemies is not worth the price of the movie ticket; it would be the same experience if you streamed it online or bought it from some old Chinese woman on the corner of Canal. As for the long of it. . .

1. The costuming.
2. Jason Clarke as Red was a pleasant surprise. He needs to be in more stuff.
3. Well, Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, and William Powell are sort of in it.


What's dismaying about Public Enemies, over and beyond the unintelligibility of much of the dialogue and the sliminess of its digital sheen, is that it has no sense of why it's been made [Sukhdev Sandhu of the Telegraph].

1. Shaky cam. There is no reason to imply a "we were there" feel if there was obviously nobody there. This isn't a horror movie. And the HD. I couldn't tell if if was the theater or the quality of the film, but it seems like it actually is a result of the HD.

2. Johnny Depp starring as Johnny Depp made for an uninspiring, uncharismatic Dillinger who walked around and smirked at things a lot la that pirate guy. Christian Bale was likewise blah, though billy Crudup put in an interesting performance as J Edgar Hoover.

3. Poor attempts at emotional grounding. When the screenplay writer is using some half-ethnic tragedy (Marion Cotillard's character, as I recall, is half-Indian or something), you know they're half-assing it. What was most peculiar was the screenplay's attempts at establishing the relation dynamic between Billie (Cotillard) and Dillinger. Dillinger on several occasions demands that or forces Billie to repeat phrases after him ("I will return, baby," or something.) I got the impression that the writer thought this would indicate how committed Dillinger is. Instead, it comes across as the first step in a controlling relationship that dives into abuse.

This spilled into the dialogue, which was packed with platitudes. Exchanges went somewhere along the lines of "I like whiskey and women"-- "I'm a woman"-- "You're not whiskey." Thanks, guys.

4. The Great What? In order to demythicize someone, it is essential to explain the social and economic conditions that gave rise to such a public's creation and embracing of the myth. This movie failed to bring forth the man that was Dillinger and the world that he operated in. If you are going to make it a romance, go ahead, but the vague and silly attempts to emotionally develop Dillinger (see above) only highlighted the movie's awkward handling of the entire history of the figures and events. About twenty minutes into the movie, I felt like I would have gotten more out of watching a documentary instead, no matter what kind of promise of humanization the advertisements made.

5. No shades of gray. The story was told entirely in black and white morals. The excuse could be that this was done because Dillinger is a folk hero, but the movie fails to acknowledge the economic and social environment that would give rise to such a figure that could be so easily cast in a black and white world. The reference to Manhattan Melodrama is almost embarassing for the film especially because Melodrama, for all its of-the-times, well, melodrama, actually ends up being more compliated than Public Enemies, with its straightfoward and predictable love-story and clear cut bad and good guys.

In particular, the writers felt the need to come up with a bumbling woman-beating cowardly federal agent in order to further (fail to) dramatize Dillinger's death. A second outcome is the uninteresting closing death scene. If the movie was trying to make any commentary, or even to inject any sort of complication into the myth of Dillinger and the environment he operated within, would not have whitewashed the moments after Dillinger's death. While the camera zoom up into a bird's eye view, it would have been fascinating to see precisely how the people in the street reacted to the death-- especially the souvenir collectors who supposedly began to essentially loot the body. That would have added some grit, realism, or flavor to what is essentially a flat movie. We all are still waiting for a Dillinger movie, a film that should be easy to make because of its fascinating source material, but which apparently isn't. You'd be better off watching Manhattan Melodrama, which I highly recommend. The actors are more charismatic, the relationships more complicated, and the everything just more better.

Public Enemy - Don't Believe the Hype

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