Mann seems intoxicated with Depp's face, dipping early and often into the close-up bucket to paint a lyrical portrait of a hard-edged badass who styled himself a suave, latter-day Robin Hood. Depp's expressions convey a cocksure Dillinger, but also a playful one. Depp practically winks at the camera, still we become flush with excitement.
Thanks to the camera work of Dante Spinotti and production design of Nathan Crowley, many moments in the film have a beautiful dreamlike quality, despite the rawness of the violence and ribaldry. Andrew Dominik pulled off this technique with much better success in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford but the set pieces here still deserve special mention. Many of the film's key scenes were shot in the locations where they actually occurred, including the climactic showdown outside Chicago's Biograph Theater. Every scene is immaculately tended to and there's never a fear that when we turn a corner, the flavor of 1930's America will be lost.
The film does have several rough spots though, including some deficiencies with the sound design. I realize it sounds rather snooty to complain about something as seemingly innocuous as sounds design, but often - especially at the beginning of the film - key bits of dialogue are drowned out by background or ambient noise, sometimes leaving us wondering what the previous scene was about. I suppose it could have been my particular theater, but I've since discussed with others who experienced the same. Grievous error.
The supporting parts are led by Christian Bale as special agent Melvin Purvis, specifically appointed by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) to bring down these infamous gangsters, and a wonderful Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's love interest, Billie Frichette. Bale's Purvis is thin and mostly forgettable, primarily because Mann never forgets this is a Depp vehicle through and through. Dillinger meets Frichette as a coat-check girl and is immediately smitten with her besotted vulnerability. It's a bit jolting to see the two hit it off so suddenly, but as they spend more and more time together, we understand how Dillinger finds solace in her devotion and assuredness as his world begins to crumble around him.
Nothing new about John Dillinger is explored in Mann's script as he sticks like glue to the text of Bryan Burrough's novel, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. We know the story, and we're familiar with the timeline and scenario of Dillinger's doom, but particularly entertaining is the way Mann weaves into Dillinger's tale a couple of other interesting threads. Running concurrent to Dillinger's reign of terror in the upper-Midwest, is the birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And particularly fascinating is the revelation of how precariously born was the F.B.I. We're given a stark illustration that had the organization been headed up by anyone even a tad less driven than Hoover, the Federally unified crime-fighting wing may never have pecked out of its tender shell.
Public Enemies has a unique verve and an abundant sense of period style, but we're never really quite sure why the film was made. With nothing particularly new to say and no previously untapped angles explored, we're left with a slightly empty feeling. Some of Mann's parts are truly genius filmmaking, but they're just not put together properly. It's as if all the pretty jigsaw pieces have been laid out of the table, but we're not allowed to put the puzzle together.
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish.
Language and Sound: English: DTS 5.1 HD Spanish: DTS 5.1 Surround French: DTS 5.1 Surround.
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; additional featurette; director's commentary.
- Feature-length commentary track with director Michael Mann.
Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging
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