Having looked around for more feedback on the Portland screening the more it is easy to be tempted to think that Public Enemies isn’t going to be as great as one hopes it is going to be. I have already posted one response to the screening and that was negative (and I don’t like getting negative about Michael Mann’s work). Here is another response to someone claiming to have seen the early screening, which again is disappointingly negative. It is of course impossible to derive conclusions from these responses. Some folk found The Insider incredibly dull. However, I found it to be one of my all time favourite and most personally important movies. Some folk just don’t have the emotional intelligence to get beyond authentic gun battle sequences, as exhiliarating and dramatic as these can be. Anyway, for the sake of information here is another response to the early screening – if anyone finds a positive review from an early screening please let me know and I will post it!
The Worst Johnny Depp Movie I’ve Ever Seen, And I’ve Seen Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
I got the opportunity to see Michael Mann’s new movie Public Enemies last week at what appears to have been the very first public screening of the film (held here in Portland, Oregon). It was an early cut with some unfinished sound and special effects, and will likely undergo changes before it’s released in July of next year. I wrote the following very quickly, and primarily for the readers of Ain’t It Cool News…
Public Enemies is principally about John Dillinger (Depp), his relationship with girlfriend Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), and the early days of the FBI, represented by director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) and field agent Melvin Purvis (Bale). As the title implies, the story also touches on a few other infamous names including George “Baby Face” Nelson (Stephen Graham) and “Pretty Boy” Floyd (Channing Tatum).
I had read about Public Enemies this time last year, and was honestly looking forward to seeing it. I’m more than a little fond of both Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, and I generally put up with period films and true-crime dramas.
Public Enemies is bad. Bad like check-your-watch-every-five-minutes bad. I’ve never wanted to walk out of a theater more than I did during this screening.
The main offenders here are cliche and predictability. There isn’t one element of the film that feels original or surprising or even remotely interesting. It’s all been done 100 times before, and often better. From the moment it begins, you know exactly where every character is going and it’s simply counting down the minutes until everyone dies.
The action sequences make the time slightly more bearable, but they too suffer from eventually falling into familiar territory where one can’t tell what the hell is going on or who is going down. They are certainly capable and vaguely entertaining, but Mann doesn’t break new ground here from his previous gunfight sequences. They actually feel dialed back when viewed next to 1995’s Heat, and by the time you’ve seen the first one, you’ve seen them all.
What would have saved this entire effort? Possibly the focus of the film. There is definitely something compelling about the folk-hero bank-robber, but the story fails as an anti-hero picture. The problem is that I never cared about Dillinger for a single scene. He opens the movie as a violent and murderous criminal, and rides through the whole thing on nothing but greed and desperation. What would the film have been like if we had seen Dillinger pre-crime spree? What if we had seen a glimpse of his time served in the Navy, or even a day of his earlier prison sentence? Johnny Depp’s performance is completely workable, but little more. Far from one of his countless standout performances.
What if the film had focused a little bit more clearly on Purvis and the early beginnings of the FBI? The movie fails here, too, as the scene’s involving Hoover are simply too short and spread thin, and Bale’s character hardly does anything but run around and seem mildly frustrated. Hardly interesting to witness when it makes up every other scene, and Bale seems equally underwhelmed with the situation whenever he’s not ducking bullets.
And that leaves the love story, also a complete failure. It’s a whirlwind romance in the first act, and then for almost an hour, we hardly even glimpse Cotillard. I had honestly forgotten she was in the movie by the time they throw her back in. Cotillard’s Billie is far from the worst love interest in this kind of film, but the movie spends such little time developing her relationship with Dillinger that they both seem like fools for risking their necks for each other. It’s almost creepy at times.
I understand that this was a working version of the film, and that many things will be ironed out, but its problems stem directly from the overall structure, and anything short of chopping out an hour of the movie isn’t going to make much difference. The romance aspect could be easily restructured, but it too has a long way to go at this point.
I have to point out one undeniable glowing factor in the film, and that is Stephen Graham’s “Baby Face” Nelson. I recall Graham most clearly from his super meek character in 2000’s Snatch. He is worlds away from that memory in Public Enemies, a complete mad man and easily the best thing about the movie.
My favorite moment of the screening was towards the final sequence as Dillinger is in a theater watching Manhattan Melodrama directly before his demise. What I liked here wasn’t that Public Enemies was implying that Dillinger, through the magic of cinema, was accepting and welcoming his imminent death in the last moments of his life. That was silly Hollywood crap, desperately grasping for a conclusion after so much mindlessness. No. What I liked was that, for a moment, I was in a modern day theater watching a Carey Grant film, and not Public Enemies.