Public Enemies

Sorry for the delay in the review
The weekend was spent in some outdoorsy activity and with such an insipid movie, sometimes writing about it becomes a chore.

Yes, Public Enemies – with its much vaunted cast of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale and fairly illustrious director Michael Mann - fails miserably as a movie. As a documentary covering the career of John Dillinger, maybe it works, but as a movie it doesn’t. By the way, John Dillinger was a famous bank robber during the Great Depression and was America’s first public enemy number one.

Michael Mann tries to capture the life in Chicago in the 1930’s and in this endeavour, he succeeds wildly ! Visually, its immaculate in its depiction of that era – the huge vaulted banks, the automobiles, the clothes – everything is superb. Johnny Depp plays John Dillinger – a flamboyant bank robber who bragged he took just one minute forty seconds to rob a bank – but always made sure the consumer at the bank counter got his money back. Cocky, brash and with a taste of the high life - Johnny Depp is on familiar ground here – with shades of Jack Sparrow visible at times.

Christian Bale plays FBI agent Melvin Purvis – a sort of encounter specialist who in entrusted the task to bring Dillinger to the books. This has a historical significance – FBI at that time was a fledgling institution and Director J. Edgar Hoover was trying to establish his force by capturing some notorious criminals – and Dillinger was the first one. Bale plays Purvis reasonably well – but almost all of Purvis is a complete mystery. We are never able to see if apart from dedication to FBI’s scientific methods, he has any other aspects to his character. Was he smart or just lucky ? Did he have any specific ‘encounter philosophy’ or if he was just doing his job ?

In a way, even Dillinger’s character is a bit of a mystery. He is shown doing things – robbing banks, going out with the cute hat-check girl and planning bigger train robberies – but there is precious little to be known about the man himself. Like whats his motivation ? For a person who doesn’t seem to care anything for the law, life or society in general, how is he such a romantic ?

As I have mentioned before, the treatment of the story is very documentary-like – where the happening’s are catalogued without much of a backstory or anything about the central characters – why they are the way they are. The action sequences are mainly gunfights using tommy guns – the favourite gangster weapon – and were nicely done.

By the time I was finished with the movie – I instantly remembered two movies of not-too-recent-past. The first one is 3:10 to Yuma – Dillinger has a remarkable similarity to Russel Crowe’s character in the movie. The other and more logical comparison is Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. A very similar story line about one cop versus one gangster – but American Gangster is simply a much better movie. Both the protagonists have strong a belief in what they do and the showdown was a compelling watch. Here it just feels empty, you keep on waiting for something to happen but nothing does ..

The only thing I have to say about the movie at the end – what the hell was it all about ??

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