Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Public Enemies

Well played sir well played.

It’s been five years since Michael Mann went off the rez and decided that film was dead. And now he’s finally made a film that communicates why he thinks that. Collateral was a good little genre picture, and when I first saw it I was blown away. Which helps explain why I was so thoroughly confused with Miami Vice. Taking away the fact that it’s a terrible terrible movie, Vice also had a degraded image when compared to Collateral. Rather then Collateral’s soft sodium film like glow, Miami Vice looked like it was shot on a particularly harsh camcorder. I didn’t understand the backslide.

Part of the problem with Michael Mann’s defection to video is like David Lynch, he just made film look so purty. When say Bryan Singer or Robert Rodriguez decides they want to start shooting their projects in HD, it’s no big deal. While both are good storytellers and energetic directors, the degradation of image doesn’t hurt what I think of when I think of a Singer or Rodriguez film. Mann’s another story, go back and watch Last Of The Mohicans’s sometime the deep focus and saturation of color makes the film damn near 3D. (Not to mention, The Keep like a motherfucker)

I expressed as much when the Public Enemies trailer was released. Now having seen the movie I can actually understand for the first time why Michael Mann does what he does..

Public Enemies is like no “Period Film” you’ve ever seen. It’s like Mann happened to stumble across a time machine took an HD camera with him, and shot a documentary. It’s a movie that bustles with anarchic energy and immediacy that’s almost shocking. It’s easily Mann’s best film since Heat.

A lot of that has to do with the actors. Johnny Depp is the fucking man in this thing. Walking out of the theater I was confronted with the poster of him as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s Alice And Wonderland. After watching him for two and a half hours as the cold blooded Dillinger, it was a shock to see him in a red fright wig, Kabuki make up, green contacts, and buck teeth. The fact that the man can play both roles makes him a national treasure.

This might be the “straightest” role Depp has ever played. I don’t think he’s ever played someone so unambiguously cool before. Even in the first scene as he’s lead out in shackles admist a bunch of prison grays, he commands the frame with an authority I’ve never seen him play before.

With such a magnetic figure at the center it would have been easy for Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis to come off as Captain Bringdown on an epic scale. Mann’s very smart with how he plays it though. Dillinger is a romantic figure but Mann doesn’t shy away from the damage he leaves in his wake. The Violence isn’t gratuitous but it is matter of fact and Mann doesn’t shy away from it. Everytime the aftermath leaves bodies on the floor, Bale’s boy scout straightness and moral certainty seems a little less priggish and a little more necessary.

To me the one who really makes an impression is Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover. It’s hard to connect the Crudup here to the boyish Russel Hammond in Almost Famous. He’s aged in fascinating ways, his face is less defined, his neck a lot thicker. He plays Hoover like a thuggish Bull in a pinstripe suit. Someone not to be fucked with under any circumstances.

The story of Public Enemies is one we’ve seen before. That of the noble outlaw whose unlucky enough to have outlived his time. Every day Dillenger’s out Organized crime becomes a bit more business like and a bit less tolerant of an outlaw like him. Every day he’s out people like Baby Face Nelson (Played in an unforgettable performance by the great Stephen Grahmn, who between this and This Is England should have the market cornered on terrifying cowardly psychotics) push things a bit further, stripping away years of careful planning and hard one public sympathy.

Dillinger sees all this coming but can’t quite bring himself to step out of the way of the moving train. And Depp makes his doomed defiance really hurt.

Of course when he’s got such an obscure object of desire as Marion Cotillard it’s easy to see why. While Public Enemies does kind of belong to the men. Cotillard has a fresh faced natural beauty and charm that makes her easy to buy as the object of Depp’s affection, as well as tough inner reserve that makes her big scenes really shine. The best thing you can say about her is you want to see much more.

Simply put this is a great crime, and a welcome slab of adult entertainment in the middle of a summer that’s turning out to be a fucking wasteland.

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