Overlooked Film of the Week-#64
You guys know well enough to know I love gangster movies. I have written at length about how much I love the genre. I could spend a whole day watching gangster pictures and by the end of that day, I would have said it was time well spent. Even though the genre is quite popular in this country, some movies fall under the radar, even the movies that have stellar casts and undeniable content. Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” was one of those movies. It was a film that featured Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Jason Clarke, Channing Tatum, Emilie De Ravin, Giovanni Ribisi, Billy Cudrup, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Stephen Lang, Carey Mulligan, Lili Taylor, and Shawn Hatosy. That is an eye-opening cast, and I didn’t even mention everybody.
The movie centers on the golden age of bank robbery and the birth of the FBI. Depp plays John Dillinger, the most popular bank robber of this era. The time is the 1930’s and the great depression was in full swing. There were individuals you did not plan on hope and getting by, so they turned to lives of crime. Dillinger led one of the meanest, most notorious gangs of bank robbers, and they created quite the name for themselves. That name caught the attention of up-and-coming J. Edgar Hoover (Cudrup) and he recruited Melvin Purvis (Bale) to catch Dillinger and his gang. Most of the film is a cat-and-mouse game between Dillinger and his forces against Purvis and the newly formed FBI. I could never quite figure out how this vanished without a trace after being released in the summer of 2009. This is a great cast for a movie like this and they all dig deep to make it all matter.
Usually, if Johnny Depp is playing somebody weird, he looks bored and the films suffers from it. Here, Mann was able to get some exciting charisma out of him. Depp has never been more alive as a normal person on film before. I am still amazed by how few actually caught how normal he actually was. This is one of Depp’s highlights for me and he absolutely nails Dillinger. I have always been a huge fan of Christian Bale, and I was onboard for Bale as Purvis. Bale gives yet another committed performance and shows why he is a reliable character actor. The rest of the cast is solid across the board, especially an incredibly brief performance by Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd. It is an amazing journey that this ensemble takes us on.
The story also focuses on Billie Frechette, played by Marion Cotillard. Billie and Dillinger meet on the fly and they are instantly connected to each other. Dillinger never expects to meet someone like Billie, but he cannot help but be drawn to her and she is hesitant of Dillinger at first but soon gives into his flirtations. They run away together and she will eventually lead to his despair. The pairing of Cotillard and Depp is phenomenally handled. They work wonders on screen together, and a piece of me hopes they re-team sometime in the future. I would have never had guessed this pairing would have worked as well as it did, and the film banked on this couple’s interactions. I am happy to say how well they do together.
The look of Michael Mann’s film is, once again, lush and luminous. The cinematography by Dante Spinotti is absolutely superb, easily some of the best cinematography of that year. The use of digital cameras may seem weird in a film set in the 1930’s, but there is a real sense of landscape that I found deeply rich. It felt as if Mann put me in a time machine and transported me to this time and place. It is amazing how well it worked out onscreen. Knowing Mann, the film has some moments of tense action, and they are all used well. I particularly liked a brutal shootout in a hotel in the woods. The film is also uses music and silence to absolute affect, and Mann puts together a stellar soundtrack for the film.
If you like gangster movies at all, you owe it to yourself to see this movie.