Paul Cook 22/07/2009
Public Enemies has all the ingredients to be both a summer action blockbuster and timeless epic; Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard all under the masterful direction of Michael Mann (Director of Heat, Collateral and Ali). To some extent it is the epitome of Mann's filmography and influences without quite hitting that benchmark set
almost 15 years ago with Heat. Eagerly anticipated, the film has received mixed reviews but one thing is for sure, it's one of the best films so far this summer with engrossing depth and a charismatic turn from Depp.
Public Enemies like many of Mann's films has been in the pipeline over a decade and comes at a time when the economic and social context of the film somewhat mirrors those of the audience it's aimed at. The celebrity status of bank-robber John Dillinger (Depp) at the height of the Great Depression is the latest in a long line of films to celebrate the underdog and more importantly the criminal valiantly fighting against a higher power. The Assassination of Jesse James did it with beauty and poeticism and American Gangster did it with effortless bravado. Johnny Depp does all that adding his own style and swagger whilst portraying a man torn between his life as America's most wanted (and the celebrity status that comes with it) and a future love-life.
Dillinger's confidence and charm could only be achieved by a few select actors of our generation and Depp who is strikingly similar in appearance to both the subject and the movie-icon of Dillinger's era, Clark Gable is exceptional. Hype surrounding the film had Public Enemies down as the Heat of the 1940's yet the cops and robbers storyline proves to be one of the only similarities. Whereas Heat's leading men, De Niro and Pacino, matched each other in every manner besides their professions, Christan Bale and Johnny Depp are polar opposites. Depp is razor-sharp and one step ahead and Bale is left lagging behind in his wake. This kills much of the tension that the film builds to in a number of anti-climaxes and it is only Depp being torn between life as a rich, free man and his sweetheart Billie Cotillard that produces the nail-biting moments in the movie.
Much discussion has been raised amongst critics regarding Mann's use of digital rather than 35mm on the film, a courageous move given the urban beauty that he paints in many of his other films, namely Heat and Collateral in which dirty, crime-ridden cities are transformed though the lens into sprawling, picturesque cityscapes. The film does have a distinct visual style. The long, close up tracking shots on Depp and mix of fantastically choreographed action with intimate, personal scenes adding character depth make it a solid effort but it is the wide, panoramic visions of 1940's America that suffer from a lack of celluloid. Nevertheless, clarity is abundant, every hair and wrinkle on the cast's faces visible but it is that depth in colour and contrast that gives film it's distinctive look that is missing.
The best way to summarise the film is that despite not being the sum of it's parts, it is a carefully considered, character piece set amongst a classic-cinema backdrop of depression-era America. Furthermore it deals with a contemporary set of issues and features a fantastic performance from Depp. Also, if it's competitors at the box-office are the likes of Transformers 2 and The Taking of Pelham 123 it has nothing to worry about. The best £6 you could spend at the cinema would be Public Enemies without a doubt.