Michael Mann delivers another long-winded crime saga, apparently stuck in the same groove as his previous feature, Miami Vice. On the surface there are a lot of similarities between those two films. Both are shot on video, concern a bunch of self-important men shooting other self-important men, and both feature really, really loud gunshot blasts.
The sound design is actually the major stumbling block in Public Enemies. It’s abysmal. The dialogue is frequently inaudible and the atmos is practically non-existent (it’s like watching Fritz Lang’s M with the eerily silent streets) but then the music and sound effects come crashing in to deafen us all. I was actually convinced that something was wrong with the cinema’s sound system, but I spoke to the projectionist, and a friend who saw it on another screen, and it simply seems to be the way the film was made. I’m not sure what angle the sound designer was going for, but – together with the digital video – it makes the feature seem like a student film. The sound was so bad that it was difficult to focus on the rest of the movie, but I’ll try to do it justice.
There are a bunch of solid if uninspiring performances and an insane amount of cameos. Stephen Dorff, Giovanni Ribisi, David Wenham, Leelee Sobieski, Channing Tatum and Emilie de Ravin have tiny roles, sometimes speaking no more than two lines. If I were familiar with the history, then maybe I’d realise that these are all important figures, but alas this isn’t the case. Johnny Depp is fine in the lead role of John Dillinger – but it seems that his initial chameleon-like abilities have been honed down to three or four archetypes in his recent flicks (though he’s still the youngest-looking 46 year old). After Terminator Salvation and now this, it seems that Christian Bale isn’t quite as reliable as he used to be. His Melvin Purvis is determined yet constantly frustrated by the limp and useless FBI, but none of this helps the film when he’s completely lacking in charisma.
I just realised that I haven’t given a rundown of the plot at all, and that is significant in itself. One: I’m a poor reviewer, sure; but two: the plot doesn’t really matter. It’s about John Dillinger and the cops who fail to catch him. Public Enemies is really just a bunch of male faces. I wasn’t ever clear as to the names of anyone apart from Dillinger and his closest buddies Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd, and didn’t really care where the plot was headed. We’re never given a chance to identify with the characters and (as with Miami Vice) there’s a sex scene early on that fails on all levels as a consequence of this.
It’s well shot and the actors do a fine job, but at its worst it simply recreates a bunch of reasonably famous heists, much like an episode ofRating: