Thursday, 2 July 2009

"Public Enemies" - John Dillinger

‘Public Enemies’ is such an outstandingly bad film it almost becomes interesting just because of that.
Depp is the only good thing in it, but he’s crippled by an overload of bad cimema.

As a film, "Public Enemies" needs a public health warning against boredom.

There’s a mass of gunfire, pitched much louder than usual to the point of real discomfort. Action fans might like it, but the camera work is so muddled it’s hard to make out who on earth is shooting who. I guess if all you want is bangs that's all right.
That muddle might be realism, as shootouts are like that, but good cinema it isn’t. A few shots of muddled shooting would give us realism: a constant flow of muddle becomes simply boring.

Action movies are often accused of cardboard characters. In this film we don’t even have paper ones.
Who was Dillinger? how did he become “John Dillinger”? We don’t know.
Yet we do, and his story is fascinating. Why was it all left out of the film? Why did we not see a glimpse of him looking after ‘his people’? for example. Nothing of the human person can be seen behind the guns except Depp’s skilled facial expressions.

Perhaps the greatest flaw is lack of identification. Even action films can grip us tight to the hero/ine. With Depp up there it’s a real tribute to the director Mann's failure that he leaves us outside gawping at muddle and mistakes. His hero is just a standard Hollywood cliché.
As for Dillingedr's gang and opponents, there are so many men in suits looking intense it’s hard to know who’s a cop and who’s a gangster. Constant close-up, in your face filmwork, doesn’t help recognition. Parts of faces, the back of someone's shoulder, don't tell us much about who's doing what to who.

Dillinger’s amazing capers simply aren't there. Not just a gunslinger but a mastermind so why not let us see what fun he was? Checking out banks by posing as a sales rep selling security systems – not shown. Setting up a job as a film company doing a bank robbbery, so people smiled as the real robbery took place – not shown. His trademark two shots at the ceiling, then “Everybody get down and stay calm!” – not shown. Instead lots of those muddled gunshots.

The regional American accents are so thick that a third of the dialogue or more is completely lost unless that's your hometown. Oh and who was the guy in the blue suit who got shot at the start? Never did find out. Nameless guy shoots nameless guy, shooter looks a bit uncomfortable, now that's real exciting cinema.

Most of the actors’ make up was smeared on like amateur stage make up. Men especially look peculiar in obvious heavy make up and tough guy heroes and villains hardly benefit from caked mascara, and lipstick.

There’s only one significant female role and she’s a scrawny, ugly little thing with no magnetism or appeal. Her photo in Dillinger’s fob watch, seen several times, shows up how hollow and skeletal she is.

Period detail is poor. Steam trains meant stations were filthy: this one was bright and clean – with white tilework. Everything else is lovely and clean too, such as streets and buildings. In a Depression era when everywhere except a few rich highspots was shabby and broken down.

The origin of the FBI was an interesting subplot, but like so much else, got lost in clever clever camera work, and muddle. The new type of gangster, another subplot, was another casualty to opaque accents, too-fast talk. That could have been genuinely interesting. Pity.

Was it too controversial to show just why Dillinger was so adored? Banks were hated then even more than now, with repossessions and unemployment as a ruthless backdrop for their greed. Dillinger challenged them by robbing them, so he was loved by the people so greatly they helped and sheltered him. They say his blood on the pavement was sacred, and hankies dipped in it when the body had been removed.

His death chapter is cheesy, predictable even if you don’t know the story. Why was the prostitute not wearing the red dress she actually wore? After such a boring film it was hard to feel regret when he died though the close up of blood pouring out of his face was a really nice touch (not).

Looking up Dillinger when I got home I was entranced by his real story. I think that was the one thing I can thank the film for. It made Dillinger so boring I wanted to know why he's a legend, so I looked him up. Not a great achievement for a film.


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