Written by / 3/31/2012 / No comments / , , , , , ,

PUBLIC ENEMIES

title: PUBLIC ENEMIES
year: 2009
cast: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale
rating: *1/2

When Johnny Depp isn't overdoing he’s underplaying. The Tim Burton films has his characters flitting and frolicking on the screen like animated puppets wired on ten gallons of caffeine, while in roles like THE RUM DIARY he’s as subdued as a guy on the corner.

But when playing John Dillinger, the single most famous bank robber in American history – who became (and remains) a folk hero during the depression – some of that hyperactive spark might have helped. But the failure of the overlong PUBLIC ENEMIES can’t be blamed on the immensely popular A-list celebrity. Depp, being much too pretty for the role, and whose narrow shoulders in the big black coat resembles a high school kid in a mob-themed prom, does achieve brief bouts of slowburn cool, especially when toying with the head of FBI hunter Melvin Purvis, played with monotone breeze by Christian Bale – yet another talented actor wasted in this expensive suit with no pockets.

Director Michael Mann spends so much energy on the frantic action… Dillinger and his boys on the run one minute and quickly robbing banks the next… that the characters are completely wasted. There’s not one clear shot of Baby Face Nelson’s nefarious mug – he could have been a essential antagonist that would allow Dillinger to deliver more strength to the proceedings.

Depp, in filling the shoes of genuine tough guys Lawrence Tierney and Warren Oates (whose turn in the 1973 John Milius biopic is still the best), gets lost in the milieu of grainy cinematography and shaky nighttime shootouts. And the sappy love story between Dillinger and his half Indian gun moll seems a mere romantic device.

The biggest tragedy are the two historic keynotes to the story – Dillinger’s prison break using a gun-shaped soap bar and his eventual demise outside the movie theater thanks to the Lady in Red, are rushed along with a soundtrack more befitting a majestic biopic than a kickass one. He was a bank robber, after all, not an Emperor.
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