Posts Tagged ‘depp’

Bi-Polar Reviews: Public Enemies II

July 23, 2009

Sequels rarely live up to expectation, with this in mind we present part two.

Did you miss the first half? i suggest you click.

If you are like me, a fan of Michael Mann, while watching Public Enemies you will get the sense that you have seen an awful lot of this before. One man, one goal, one way etc etc. The subject of Mann’s new film is the pursuit of one John Dillinger and his subsequent pursuit of stardom. As Dillinger’s reputation increases, Mr Hoover’s impatience escalates. Cue Melvin Purviss, humourless, calculated and utterly determined to catch his man.

Bale N Depp

The players behind this film attract such great expectations. It’s Bale. It’s Depp. It’s Mann. It is these high expectations of the picture, that ultimately result in it’s undoing.

The film that has been marketed as a biopic, should be presented to the audience as such. Where Public Enemies fails is in its presentation of Dillinger. We are supposed to empathise with the main protagonist. Yet the ambivalent, cool demeanour of Dillinger presented on screen, distances the character from the viewer on an emotional level. If you didn’t know about John Dillinger before entering the cinema, you certainly won’t know a whole lot more walking out. The film feels like a footnote to an intricate story, settling on the cat and mouse game between Dillinger and Purviss.

C n M

This cat and mouse game is however, projected to us in beautiful high definition. We get the crispest hi-res images, coupled with the frightened Parkinson’s camerawork so prevalent in action sequences post-Private Ryan. The in-your-face digital photography, which worked brilliantly with the post-modern Collateral, seems slightly anachronistic in an era of fedora’s and trilby‘s.

Mann dedicates himself to making Dillinger looking more dapper than ever, and that’s the problem. It looks the business, but has no depth, nothing to say, no new shtick. It just feels like a homage to the better films that shaped the genre. The digital Bonnie and Clyde, with digital technology that clearly isn’t there yet.


The violent aesthetic of Bonnie and Clyde embellished the message it wished to convey, to an ever growing younger audience in search of anti-establishment moralities on the big screen. The movie was a powerful entity, sparking the arrival of New Hollywood cinema. With Public Enemies, you get the feeling that although it is violent in parts, it is more interested in what the violence does to people physically rather than mentally. The realistic nature of what happens when a gun shot makes impact in glorious high definition. Here violence serves as spectacle rather than narrative development.

At the centre of this narrative is the binary opposite approach of which Mann is all too familiar. Mann proposes that Purviss and Dillinger, are two sides of the same character, albeit at opposing ends of the law. In previous Mann offerings, this juxtaposition revelled in the dualism of its characters. Remember that coffee shop climax between De Niro and Pacino in Heat?


In the case of Public Enemies, we are meant to believe that somehow Dillinger and Purviss are one and the same. Yet despite all the intimate cinematography, do we ever feel that we truly know them? The problem lies in Mann’s back catalogue. The underlying struggle of good and evil that run throughout the filmmakers previous works. While previous efforts effortlessly confront this theme, Public Enemies highlights the similarities between the two protagonists – yet rarely demonstrates them.

It’s not Heat, it’s not trying to be Heat…but maybe it should’ve.