By Chauncey Telese
Traditionally the movie on the Fourth of July is a movie starring Will Smith or a movie that packs in a lot of fireworks, but this year offers something different.
It’s not the bad kind of different like when someone serves couscous at a Fourth of July barbeque, but the good kind of different like when someone decides to grill using Kobe Beef. In keeping with last week’s food analogy, if “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is the Pizaookie of summer movies then “Public Enemies” is the Filet Mignon of summer movies. And not just a filet that you can get at Sizzler …no, this is the type of filet that is so tender you can cut it with a fork.
The commercials make this movie out to be a shoot-em-up gangster flick, but really this is more like the type of film you would expect during the awards season. Movies like “Public Enemies” actually dignify the summer season and with the Academy expanding their Best Picture category to ten nominees, this film may make that list as it surely will in other categories.
In case you haven’t seen any ads for this (hard not to), the movie follows Johnny Depp’s John Dillinger as he becomes the most notorious bank robber in America and is pursued by Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis. Depp deserves a nomination and may actually get his long overdue award for his performance. Really, it is that good. While Dillinger was a charismatic criminal whom the public admired Depp via subtle eye movements and mannerisms portrays Dillinger as a man who is afraid of the future as he knows full well what’s going to happen. As much as he loves going out into the public and watching movies or even strolling into a police station (he uses disguises) he is well aware of how fragile all of that is. He knows that he will either die young or rot in jail so he never plans for the future and tries to live out everyday as if its is another bank robbery. Look for this moment of realization when he’s in the Biograph movie theater watching Clarke Gable’s “Manhattan Melodrama”.
It is not until he meets Billie Frechette (2007 Oscar Winner Marion Colltiard) that he sees a silver lining in his future. While his charm gets her attention, it is the humanity that ultimately wins her over. Through her he considers leaving his life of robberies after one last big score. Colltiard does a wonderful job at showing how Billie knows she should not be attracted to Dillinger but cannot help it, which leads to her paying a heavy price for doing so.
Bale also is magnificent in this film (which is nice considering how bad he was in that train wreck “Terminator: Salvation”). Bale plays Purvis as a guy who is so hell bent on catching Dillinger that he almost crosses over the criminal line himself in the way he has Dillinger’s men interrogated.
Also look for Billy Crudup (“Watchmen”, “Big Fish), as a very creepy J. Edgar Hoover, who, because of Dillinger, pushes for the creation of the F.B.I. (so criminals can’t just go across state lines to evade police) and coins the term “public enemy”.
The other amazing performance is that of Stephen Lang’s Charles Winstead who was Purvis’ number two. It is a small role but towards the end he really stands out. By the way, for all of you crime buffs look for some great cameos by Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and Alvin Karpis, and Homer Van Meter.
This film is also fascinating because the audience gets to see the early development of law enforcement techniques such as telephone surveillance, early ballistics, and other techniques.
Director Michael Mann, who has brought such awesome crime films as “Heat”, “Manhunter”, “Collateral”, and “Thief,” does an amazing job at capturing depression era Chicago. He films everything in such a way that it feels like we’re with Dillinger when he’s robbing a bank or pulling off some sort of amazing prison escape. He uses close-ups to the point where we can see the sweat coming off everyone’s face (got to love those HD cameras). All of these techniques give us more insight into who these people are and that works better than the use of flashbacks or dialogue.
I highly recommend this film for both guys and girls as it actually provides a nice balance of bank robberies, shoot outs, and romance. However, if you’re stuck with the kids and don’t want them to see Batman and Jack Sparrow shoot at each other with Tommy Guns, then check out “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”.
Stay tuned as next week I look at a documentary from Austria entitled Bruno.
As always you can catch all of these films at our local Santa Clarita Edwards Cinemas.