Hey Cool Crew...
I had an opportunity tonight to catch a test screening of Michael Mann's Public Enemies.
This was in Portland, OR at the same theater that held the Watchmen test screening about 6 weeks ago... far less security & Hollywood goons this time out.
Didn't even make us sign NDA's...
They let us know that we were the second audience to ever see the film, and that there were SOME unfinished elements to it... warning us that what we were watching was a video transfer print, that the audio was not completely mixed, the skies in the film were not rendered yet, and that a pivotal "bullet to the face" scene was missing the blood. That all being said, I can genuinely say I was shocked how complete the film looked and felt as far as post production elements given that it has 6 months to go till release.
The short and not so short of it:
Depp plays John Dillinger, a gangster that looks a lot like Ed Wood... Depp's performance starts good, but gets great.
He is an elusive mouse for much of the first half of the film. Imagine if Jerry in Tom and Jerry had a machine gun. This is Depp in the first half. Running, outwitting, smiling, blowing the shit out of things.
You start to get more of a feel for him in the second half. The classic hollywood scenes that I wanted in the first 90 minutes, finally came in the final 60.
If this movie becomes a hit, it will be remembered mostly for a scene of Depp walking through a police station... classic Depp.
The capture and demise of Dillinger is the stuff that Best Pictures are made of... it is a combo of the visual flair of De Palma's Untouchables mixed with the tension of Sergio Leone's westerns.
Bale is FBI agent, Melvin Purvis, who is pursuing Dillinger across the country. For me, he was a non entity in this film and should be reduced to a supporting character.
Bale gives a one note performance throughout the film. You never feel for him, root for him, root against him, or quite frankly care when he is on screen. His character is WAY under developed.
I would seriously call this a flaw in the current cut of the film. A major chunk of the film's resolution deals with Purvis facing his conflicts with J Edgar Hoover. A conflict that is not examined with any significance earlier in the film.
Think Costner in Untouchable, a legit comparison... he had family torment in every direction, you wanted him to catch Capone, even though you kinda wanted Capone to win too. This film does NOT have that dynamic.
The Bale scene in the closing 10 minutes pulls out the rug from the emotional build up of everything prior.
Billy Crudup serves up a scene stealing performance as J Edgar Hoover. He is a pretty minor character in this film at its current cut, but I HOPE HOPE HOPE that changes.
His role, beefed up, even slightly, provides everything that Bale's character does not... he is the one who NEEDS Dillinger caught, he is the one that should be shown blowing his lid every time Dillinger escapes.
They touch on this, but split this chase with Bale... unneeded. Crudup deserves props for bringing something more to this film that no other actor in the film does. Depp is great, but doing a great Depp part. Bale is doing Bale. But Crudup is doing something you have never seen him do before and it is very fun to watch. On a side note, I will be curious to see if anyone else thinks he looks alarmingly similar to Darren # 1 from Bewitched.
Last but not least, Marion Cotillard plays Dillinger's girlfriend, Billie. Although I thought their courtship went way too fast from fling to serious.... do not be mistaken, Public Enemies is a love story.
It is for this reason I find the title to be very unfortunate. "Dillinger" is the perfect title for this film. It is about him, his heart, his passion for those important to him, above all, Billie. The emotional climax of this film has nothing to do with cops and robbers, but all about "the girl".
Imagine if the Fugitive was all about Harrison Ford's character running back to his LIVING wife.... it changes a great action film into a helplessly romantic one. Now, take that, add the inevitable fate from "The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and you have "Dillinger".
This movie will remind some of The Assassination of Jesse James, though it not near as epic in cinematic scope, nor as lyrical.
The directing is fine, for 2 hours, but brilliant for the last 30... could definitely be improved with more cuts and story restructuring.
Make it a romantic tragedy, with Hoover chasing Dillenger as he chases the girl. Throw in some good supporting acting from Bale, and you have an oscar contender.
As it is now, it is just a really good summer film.
call me Emmet Otter
Thanks, Emmet! Now here's EccoGamer with his/her/its thoughts!
I got into a preview screening of the new Michael Mann/Johnny Depp/Christian Bale movie tonight called PUBLIC ENEMIES at the Regal Lloyd 10 (here in Portland). And as I had suspected, it is about 1930’s criminal John Dillinger and his gang. The words ‘early cut’ were mentioned before the film and the show itself was delayed almost half an hour for supposed 'sound' problems. The cut I saw did seem too long but ultimately this is a really terrific movie that I assume will be rolled out for awards season next year.
Apart from the two marquee stars, the cast is huge. As usual both Depp and Bale are great, if somewhat subdued. But there’s also Marion Cottilard (wouldn’t even recognize her from Ma Vie En Rose), Channing Tatum (small part in a chase scene), Leelee Sobieski (good to see her again), Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff, etc. Oh and Billy Crudup has a cameo as J. Edgar Hoover which is quite funny.
And look, we all know how Michael Mann can excel with these crime flicks – HEAT, MANHUNTER, etc…this is his version of that in 1930’s period. In a way, it shows how violent early America gave birth to the obnoxious overseas big brother superpower we are now.
The movie hits the ground running with a great, ballsy ‘breakout’ scene from the Illinois State Penitentiary that is pure Mann: Dillinger (who has only been paroled from this same
prison 8 weeks earlier) simply walks in to the place pretending to have just been arrested before all hell breaks loose and he busts out his entire crew.
From there we go to Melvin Purvis who is in the midst of chasing down Dillinger accomplice Baby Face Nelson (Channing Tatum). Purvis the sharp shooter nails the guy with his rifle from hundreds of yards away. Later on J. Edgar Hoover (Crudup) surprises Purvis by naming him new head of the FBI in the middle of a press conference. Purvis’ sole aim from there on is to get Dillinger. And there you have what is not only an early American crime saga but also a public relations cat-and-mouse game that both sides engage in.
The movie makes some interesting – even amusing – points about Dillinger’s celebrity. It posits Dillinger as the handsome ‘jackrabbit’ robin hood that the depression era public was fascinated by. And it plays out as a sort of power struggle between he and Purvis: who is the American public more fond of this week? Press conference scenes where Dillinger manipulates the reporters and plays for the crowd are very funny. And what I love about Depp is (despite Captain Jack) he has learned when to be a character actor and when to simply service the role: he never overplays this but always nails the character’s intent. Like you can see his mind working behind his eyes.
There is also a layer of personal one-upsmanship we see between he and Melvin Purvis: even when they’ve got Dillinger behind bars, the notion of who is in control is always shifting. There’s a great line where they surprise Dillinger by telling him he’s being separated by his fellow crew in jail and extradited to Indiana. His reply is something along the lines of ‘Why would you do that? There’s absolutely no business I need to attend to in Indiana”.
I’m rushing to get this posted so I can be first so I won’t go into all the famous episodes that are depicted here: the soap gun breakout, the bank alarm system scams, and the climax where Purvis and his men plot their capture of Dillinger at the Biograph movie theater where the ‘Lady In Red’ betrayal happens. But they seem to have covered everything.
If they could trim this down to a clean 2 hours, I think this studio would have something major on its hands. I am very hot and cold on Mann’s movies (Miami Vice was unwatchable to me) but here he seems to have a clever, well honed script to work off of and the best possible cast around. Thumbs up from me.