Friday, 24 July 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Public Enemies

In the midst of the summer blockbuster period in which we are often subjected to absolutely ghastly work such as Transformers 2, which only makes money because we have all been hypnotised into some joint lobotomy to watch it, we do got the odd decent, enjoyable blockbuster to help even out all of the rubbish of the day. And quite frankly you wouldn't expect any less from Michael Mann. Mann, while not all of his films are consistently great, they are certainly consistently watchable, and are sure multiple rungs up the ladder on hacks like Michael Bay and what is now considered to be the standard for "blockbuster" movies. He is one of the few working directors who is consistently making interesting films, with an ouevre of work including films such as Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans, Ali, Collateral and one of the my favourite films ever made, Heat. So yes, I am a fan, as I'm sure you have gathered from my context. So what we have here is Michael Mann directing a film on the the 1930's Great Depression-era, basing it around the activities of Chicago's most famous and notorious gangsters, particularly the activities of John Dillinger, played by Johnny Depp, and the FBI's pursuit of him, led by Melvin Purvis, played by Christian Bale. To start up with what is good about the film, and I know I'm loyally flying the flag for the same old ship, but Michael Mann truly is the best thing about the film. He truly is an auteur in the best way possible, and successfully juggles the job(s) of writing, producing and directing this film. The script is classical of Mann, an ensemble cast of characters each with their own distinct arcs and the dialogue is perfect. If there is one thing that Mann always does best with his scripts, it is the fact that he truly understands ever aspect of the human personality and it's traits. Also, his direction is tight, keeping the film interesting throughout, and it never really wavers into the area of being boring, despite being a two-and-a-half hour epic. Saying, Mann isn't exactly out of his comfort zone with this epic. As producer, along with his other jobs, he manages to be the single driving creative force to get his movie rolling, something which is not seen much in cinema these days, harking back to the behemoth creative forces in auteur cinema, such as his (and my own) inspiration Stanley Kubrick. To get to the acting side, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale deliver competent performances as the leads. Granted, neither are going to win any awards, but they do their jobs competently, with Bale certainly delivering his best performance since Rescue Dawn by default. With all due respect to Bale, who I believe is one of the best working actors in the world, he needs to get off of this two-year slack from giving the great performances we are used to seeing from him. However, in my opinion, the best performance in the film is by English actor Stephen Graham as Baby-Face Nelson. Graham, despite being in such a small part, plays Nelson brilliantly. He nails his accent spot on, and could easily pass for an American, despite being an Englishman. Having previously proved himself in smaller roles in films such as Snatch and with a meatier role, giving the best performance of his career so far as Combo in This Is England, Graham once again proves that he is a force to reckoned with as an actor. His performance makes one think what if Michael Mann had decided to focus the attention of the film on Baby-Face Nelson rather than John Dillinger. Also, the cinematography, like most of Michael Mann's films, is top class. While at times the digital photography doesn't look as well as it could, it is an interesting take on the material. Also, the editing is very well done, particularly the sound editing which make the brillaintly staged gun battles seem all the more realistic and nerve-wracking. However, while Public Enemies is a very good film, it does have numerous flaws. For starters, the three actors who dominate the film, Depp, Bale and Marion Cotillard, do not in my opinion give worthy performances. Depp and Bale jsut merely seem to be a precence and nothing more, and probably not through her own fault, Cotillard's character is poorly written as she struggles to attempt to elevate the character from the unfortunate cliche that it is. Also, while Mann has written good dialect and interesting characters for most of the script, unfortunately it feels overly long. I feel that with re-writes it may have worked, but there is at least twenty minutes of film onscreen which merely serve as exposition and contribute a pittance to the overall film. Also, structurally the film is all wrong. Now, I'm not going to babble about the numerous historical inaccuracies, but if you are going to take artistic liberty, do it for the right reasons. In conclusion, my opinions are that Michael Mann will continue to be a great director and Stephen Graham deserves better roles, but all in all, I am not clashing swords with this film, and I believe that there is much to enjoy from a venture to the cinema to watch this film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.2/10

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