July 3, 2009



First off, if you don't like loud noises or violence, don't even go to the cinema NEXT DOOR to "Public Enemies." "Public Enemies" is a gun fest. A shoot fest. A machine-gun shoot-fest. If you have a good, strong heart, you'll be fine.

"Public Enemies" is not, however a gore-fest. You'd think it would be with all that shooting. The only thing I didn't buy in PE was the constant point blank, direct-line-of-vision shooting-with-no-barriers and no one even gets nicked? C'mon! Everything else I bought.

Johnny Depp, with his guy-liner and first becoming hairdo in a long time (on- or off-screen), captivates in that slow, smoking way of his. He's got a bit of a drawl and even looks a little like a very young Elvis. His character is somehow sympathetic (excuse: horrible childhood; charm: he's nicer to the gals than the guys, is calm, cool, collected and witty), but not out-and-out glamorized. Because he comes off as totally sane, we can forget he's a cold-blooded killer. And I do mean cold. HUGE body count, LOTS of innocent bystanders (this might be another thing I don't buy. Really?) Although he's not a Robin Hood,* he's kind of desperate, so we start to see the cops and FBI as the enemy, too. Dillinger being played by America's box office offbeat male sweetheart doesn't hurt to get us on Dillinger's side either.

Dillinger's total confidence in himself and a carefree future (he was so close), combined with his criminal genius makes him outshine the often bungling law enforcement. But let's remember that the lawmen think twice before THEY shoot. They are a bit like lambs led to the slaughter in some scenes. A young J. Edgar Hoover (the always astonishing Billy Crudup--another chameleon like Depp) is building up the FBI and his own career. Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is the "star" FBI guy, who knows and has what it takes to bring the lawless down. John Dillinger is the prize for both of them. Purvis brings in a crack team from Texas and Oklahoma to do the job. In a sense, these hardened outlaws CREATED a lean, mean "scientific" FBI machine. Both Dillinger and Purvis seem to have the same character trait, or flaw, of pushing too hard, pushing others too hard and never being able to "let go." Dillinger committed a kind of suicide by the risks he took. It was reported that Purvis actually committed suicide in 1960, but that's under question.

What's even more sinister than watching one reckless individual? Watching the birth of the mob: syndicated, systemic, "coast to coast," organized crime, that is so tough it doesn't even need guns, just phones. Dillinger and his ilk are passe. At 31, Dillinger is already an old-fashioned crook. Perhaps the mob crime boss was Dillinger's real nemesis--if the FBI hadn't gunned Dillinger down, perhaps he would have done away with him (inter-state laws being passed on account of Dillinger were redounding on the mafia).

Dillinger's love interest, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), is portrayed as a rather innocent coat check girl. In real life, she associated with criminals even before Dillinger, but she was no Bonnie (of Bonnie and Clyde). What does she see in Dillinger? Someone who truly loved her. He never lied to her. It's almost as though their love story happened on an island. She wasn't part of his bloody sprees, and they love each other in a vacuum that has nothing to do with "that other part" of his life. There's definitely a woman's touch in the story here (one of the screenwriters is a woman). He was her hero, and indeed, Dillinger was a hero to many Depression-era Americans. But as members of today's mob admit, the Feds will always get you, it's just a matter of when.
"Public Enemies" speaks to the contradictory American spirit: so proud of our rule of law AND our scofflaws. We want "just the facts, Ma'am," and are pragmatists, BUT we love to escape into unrealistically optimistic fantasy worlds. Maybe it's just part of being human.

Set in Chicago (I watched it being filmed!) by Chicagoan, Michael Mann, a notoriously meticulous director, PE is a solid period piece, and I was eager to see it because:
1) I love Chicago.
2) I love Johnny Depp's acting.
3) To see what "they'd do with it."
But I don't really care about John Dillinger or criminals in general. They just don't do anything for me except turn me off.

In the end, Dillinger and his gang, like the much-feted "Sopranos," are just a bunch of thugs, out for illicit personal gain and an eventually easy life. The really exciting man is the working man, doing the right thing. The honest thing. The hard thing. Every day. (See "A Bronx Tale," "Norma Rae," "On the Waterfront," "The Great Debaters.")


--Populous, authentic-looking cast! (Found out later why: the cops are real cops, the reporters are real also--cast by "detailist" Mann himself!)

--Don't ya just love the dapper FBI--fighting crime in those gorgeous suits and hats? Far cry from S.W.A.T. gear.

--Johnny Depp is such a great actor. Such a chameleon. Great actors can act with just their eyes. Depp can act with just his irises.
--Remember "The Untouchables" TV series with Robert Stack? Wasn't that in B & W in the 70's?

--Southern blues, gutbucket and jazz soundtrack. Nice.

--Some accents, instead of sounding like those old-time American radio broadcasts, just sounded British.

--Johnny Depp and John Dillinger have the same initials. (Like Jim Caviezel and Jesus Christ.)

--Go to http://www.imdb.com/ to catch all the cameos and itty-bitty parts. Did you see Diana Krall? Channing Tatum? LeeLee Sobieski?

--There's really not much of a story-line. JD holds up a few banks and gets killed. But the ending is terribly ironic: life imitating art. The gangster watches a gangster movie and then goes out and lives it. And at this point, he even looks like Clark Gable (with little moustache), and you can see Billie's resemblance to Myrna Loy also.

--Wonderfully shot in lots of close-up, extreme close-up and some mid-range and long range. Reminiscent of "The Insider," but without being in the constant "extreme closeupness of the foreheadless people."

--But if the real Dillinger loved Billie so much--what was he doing with Polly? (They were lovers.)
--I still don't get why the FBI shot Dillinger up and didn't arrest him? Did they just lose it in the heat of the moment?

*Actually, wouldn't he be just the opposite from a Robin Hood? Stealing little people's hard-earned money for himself? People that might be just scraping by?

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  1. So is it a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down"(TM)?

  2. It's kind of a thumbs to the side! I mean, in the end, storywise: so what? Crime doesn't pay. Duh. If you want to see a careful reconstructed example of how it doesn't pay....this is your movie! But, like, I said, TONS of rat-ta-tat. TONS.
    "TM" ha ha