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Monday Review: Public Enemies


'Public Enemies' makes a man out of a legend

Sadly that headline is not a compliment, but it isn't an insult either, it's just a statement of fact. John Dillinger, the subject of Public Enemies, Michael Mann's latest film, is an American legend with about as many rumors and mythos swirling around him Elvis or JFK. He is quite literally a legend, and sometimes bringing a legend down to earth can be quite interesting, but in the case of Public Enemies it isn't.

It's not that Public Enemies is a bad movie, it's just incredibly flat. The film never jumps off the screen at you, and for a movie about one of the most famous bank robbers ever that is not a good thing. Dillinger (Johnny Depp), in case you've missed the plethora of newspaper articles and specials pouring out about him thanks to the film, was an enigmatic bank robber during the great depression who the public cheered and the just developing FBI desperately wanted to catch. The film follows Dillinger and his gang's year long bank robbing spree while Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), head of the FBI's Chicago bureau, desperately and somewhat dumbly attempts to catch him.

However, it really isn't about that at all. For some strange reason most of the movies thrust is devoted to telling the love story of Dillinger and Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) who seem to have had a passionate affair, though most of the real facts point to their relationship being far less intimate than the film portrays it. In fact it might be this fact that makes the film play out so blandly thanks to their relationship seeming solidly out of character to the Dillinger we've all heard about, especially when it comes to the end where the simple historical fact that Dillinger was shot down with two prostitutes (sorry if I'm revealing a massive secret to you) seems to completely contradict the love story of the rest of the film.

It's also disappointing because Dillinger's story truly is legendary. It involves bank robberies, the mob, gangs, J. Edgar Hoover and an immensely interesting early investigation of the FBI all which gets glazed over in light of making Dillinger look like more of a human. In fact Purvis is a far more interesting character, and Bale a far more interesting screen presence in the film, than either Depp or Cotillard, but he, much like the rest of the characters in the film, lacks the chance to really grab the viewer. There's nothing behind the performances, though they are all technically executed. There's nothing behind the direction though it is all very well done, and in the end there is nothing that makes the film any deeper than a piece of glossy paper. In fact the only part of the film which seems to create any sense of depth behind its central character is indeed the part that contains another gangster film that Dillinger is watching (one can always count on Clark Gable).

It's hard to call Public Enemies a bad movie. It isn't going to drive anyone up the wall with poor direction, poor acting or poor anything, but it just seems so coated over with whatever it was that Mann was attempting to do that nothing can jump out at the viewer. You desperately want to be grabbed and taken along for what should be one of the most exciting "true stories" in history, but instead you're stuck wondering why actors as good as Depp and Bale aren't able to make their characters come to life and a director as talented as Mann seems to be dedicated to delivering a man, when he is making a film about a legend.

(I'm disappointed by movies so you don't have to be. Give me some money?)
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About Matthew Razakone of us since 2:04 PM on 04.03.2009

Matthew Razak is the Editor-in-Chief here at Flixist, meaning he gets to take credit for all this awesome even though its really the rest of the amazing staff that gets it done. He started as a community member back in the early days of Destructoid and bugged his way into writing for the site while being the Managing Editor over at That VideoGame Blog. He was also writing as a film critic for a local newspaper in the DC area and for Examiner.com. Finally after seven years of thinking silently to himself why the Modern Method network doesn't have a movie site he told Niero that we should start one. At the same time Fronz had been telling him to start a movie site too. The two of them teamed up with Niero's go ahead and now we have Flixist.

Matthew is totally open to any movie of any genre, but his wheelhouse is horror, action and James Bond. Doesn't sound too respectable but he's also got a fancy film degree from Vassar College and he's a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Society so that makes him semi-official in some capacity. He just really like movies and hopes that's enough to let you trust his opinion on them slightly.

He get asked these questions a lot when he tells people he writes for a movie blog, so:

Favorite movie: Evil Dead 2

Favorite franchise: Bond

OK, Favorite Bond movie: From Russia With Love

If you want to know the movies you have to see to get Flixist head here.

Currently backed upcoming crowdfunding projects:

Shenmue III
Xbox LIVE:Cowzilla3
Mii code:4283622287658660


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