05 July 2009

First Impressions: Pubic Enemies

Because there's nothing better than pube wars.

I had some high expectations going into this film this past week (wtf Tuesday premiere?) and I'd say that these were not met, but not exactly crushed. Public Enemies is a solid film, but nothing really absolutely outstanding. SPOILERS to follow, baby.

In many ways it's the exact opposite of a Michael Bay Extravaganza. The plotting is consistent and thorough, events happen sequentially and thoughtfully, it is well-acted and produced. The action is relatively tame, hardly any explosions or long dropping camera shots. It's a film with more honour and integrity than a big summer release is expected too anymore. It's subdued, brooding at times, and always knows that its stock should be a little higher than the fanboys clamouring for Wolverine.

That said, it really only meets the expectations for being "not a bad" movie. It certainly is not great or groundbreaking, and there are less "WOW" moments, or things that you've never seen before. The plot is not necessarily complicated, there are no major twists or turns or convolutions or insane revelations that force something meaningful through a charaded gap. It's simply a period gangster movie that by all means works well, but is not going to change your life.

There are, however, definite high points. The movie rests on Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, who in general, is awesome. Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent hired to hunt him down does a good job as well, but as is the trend with Bale lately, is more towards the weak link in the casting. I essentially saw the themes as a parallel look at these two men as they spiral out of control, more and more desperate to achieve their goals.

Dillinger is essentially an incredibly cocky asshole, a thorough American. His pride and hubris eventually cost him about everything in his life, and then his life itself. His arc as the world he has built around himself starts to crumble as the government tightens its grip on organized crime, is the most developed in the movie. Depp plays him pretty brilliantly as this man always yearning to break free from the confines other men have placed around him. He's almost very Jack Sparrow-esque in his motivations, although certainly not in his personality. There's less Verblinski-style cheeky humour, which rules. Dillinger is ruthless, but honourable and loyal to his friends. It takes a certain madness to do what he does for a living, but he is able to restrain it, which Mann does a great, if not obvious job of demonstrating alongside the manic Baby Face Nelson, who fights and kills without large reason or distinction. Basically, whenever Depp is on screen, something awesome is about to happen.

Purvis is Dillinger's Nemesis here, and I thought they could have developed his story a little further, although they round it out in the epilogue. He's continually torn with the idea of abusing Federal power to crack down on these violent scumbags, while trying to uphold the law and freedom. The only overt scene of him restraining interrogation or investigation tactics is a great scene when he stops another cop from beating the shit out of Dillinger's girl Billie (Marion Cotillard). I think a scene of Purvis quitting instead of mentioning it in the epilogue may have been more powerful, but I can see why the movie ended at the spot where it did. This was probably the most interesting aspect of the flick to me, with again, obvious observations on our own Era of Control and Surveillance, how far the FBI was willing to go to spy on people to seek justice. Whether it is eventually justified or not is up to debate, but when Purvis stops taking orders is when that storyline shines the most...which is not until the End Credits.

Dillinger's balls are absolutely huge in the film, which leads to a handful of the best scenes, namely, his occaisional public appearances, absolutely flirting with danger and how far he can push the world around him, even strolling into the room at the police station that is assigned to investigate him. He's the man, consistently and thoroughly, charismatic and endearing, which is almost solely due to Depp's portrayal.

One thing about this movie is that it's incredibly slow. I realise I may just be too used to the Cranks and Transformers infecting my reasonable brain, but I like to see scenes go by a bit quicker and get to the point with some more emphasis instead of lingering to squeeze every bit of meaning, leaving nothing for the audience to ponder about. It could have used to be ten minutes shorter, and I nearly never say that, hell I could have stood to see Spider-Man 3 go about a half-hour longer. A little tighter editing could have worked, but in the end, I tend to be more interested in the core character and story anyway.

It definately has a streak of inherent coolness, but not in a blatant in-your-face-it-explodes-Transformers 2 kind of way. It's a slick, smooth, and charming piece, as Dillinger says in the trailer, "I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars... and you. What else you need to know?"

That's the most honest American statement I've heard in movies in a long time.

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