"PUBLIC ENEMIES" ELVIS VS. DUBYA
JOHNNY DEPP & CHRISTIAN BALE
GO GANG BANGING
ANOTHER MICHAEL MANN SHOOT-EM-UP
YOUTUBE: "THE PUBLIC ENEMY"
"James Cagney smashes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face"
Cagney was punk before it was punk to be a punk, see?
Stretching For Meaning, Maybe A Theme, Or A Message?
The State v. The Individual? Order vs. Freedom? The controlled life versus the spontaneous life? Batman against the Pirate of the Caribbean? We kept trying to find a thread of some kind in this film, but then BANG and we were back to blood & guts. The acting is great, the writing is OK, the cinematography, the music, the sound effects, the stunts and whizzbang were all fine. As to the direction, was the point to show that there was no point? John Dillinger was just a regular guy, even a heckofa nice guy, a great friend and a fierce lover, a Depression era Robin Hood with a heart of gold, except for the robbing and killing and beating, which was pretty much all he ever did.
Johnny Depp certainly makes Dillinger sympathetic, maybe a little too sympathetic for a greedy, cold-blooded killer. But his Indiana accent sounded more like Tupelo, Mississippi, and we found that a little distracting. He even said "Thank y' ver' much" once exactly the way Elvis Presley is famously mimicked for doing. It was like an ongoing breaking of character; a bit of a violation. Especially since The King turned out to be a bit of a Fascist himself: Muddies the waters in this film.
Christian Bale's Texas G-Man Melvin Purvis, Dillinger's nemesis, sounds exactly like our 43rd President, at times. Since Bale is a Brit, we wondered if Dubya was whom he took as his character model. Bale's gang-buster is generally a rather humorless and maybe a little insecure proto-Fascist. The point is made with a heavy hand that J. Edgar Hoover, evil closet queen that he is in this film, was creating a Federal law enforcement establishment modeled on Mussolini's Carabinieri. But Bale is ultimately a little too sympathetic, as he allows Purvis to evince some doubt and maybe even a little regret for his role in helping the emerging corporate State to crush the little guy. In the end, he just comes off a bit wimpy. More mud.
The women are all "dames" and "dolls," whores and hat-check girls, but more sensible and even more gutsy than their cops and robbers boyfriends. They struggle to survive in an era when women were almost chattel, and impoverished chattel at that, in the 1930's. Like warriors' women of old, "Public Enemies" ladies spend a lot of time waiting for Daddy to come home on his shield. The movie doesn't give them much else to do. A shame, since there are some fine actresses here.
Marie Cotillaird, who won US, British & French Oscars for playing Edith Piaf in 2007, plays the love of Dillinger's life, Billie Frechette. She's a stand-up gal who takes a beating from the cops and gives them only bad info to buy her man some time. (Are you listening, torturers?) She then goes to prison for protecting the FBI's Most Wanted. Love? Brother, you don't know the half of it! She sinks her teeth into this role and steals every scene she's in; not an easy task with this great cast, including the bit players. If she doesn't win an Oscar again, well, that's Oscar for you. We only wish the whole movie had been about her. Sequel?
We were never big fans of the gangster genre, but Depp and Bale could be said to have held their own, though they are no Bogart's or Cagney's. We kept waiting for Dillinger to mash a grapefruit in his moll's face; nope, guess we've all moved beyond that, feministically. We might as well still be operating under the Hays Code (the PRMC of the day) for all the eroticism in the film, even though it is supposed to be a hot love story. Maybe there are no more hot love stories now, either.
If you have absolutely nothing else to do this weekend, you could do worse than dropping a ten or two on this flick. It is entertaining. We only looked at our watch four times in 2 hours and 20 minutes, not at all in the last half hour. That would be the equivalent of 3 stars, we would guess. Or, you could just rent "Miller's Crossing," a masterpiece of the gangster genre.
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