They’re Young, They’re in Love, and They Bore People


Johnny Depp fulfills a lifelong ambition by having his name printed laterally across the shaft of his penis.

Sometimes I wish I were just an ordinary audience member (not that I’m removed from that by anything other than conceit and a WordPress account), so I could look at Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES and just say “Blah… what a tedious film.” For in many ways that would be the correct response, and such is the film’s deadening aspect that one does wonder if any critical analysis can produce anything worthwhile from this flat spectacle.

Johnny Depp is John Dillinger, celebrity bank robber, who says things like “You can either be a live coward or a dead hero,” and “I like baseball, fast cars, whisky and you,” which is nice. But Depp is somewhat muted, the way he was in THE NINTH GATE: an actor dedicated to flamboyance, he’s at sea in Mann’s world of low-talking hard men. And Mann is at sea with the showbiz side of Dillinger. He’s a stranger to gusto.

Here’s one problem: how is this film different from HEAT? If you like HEAT, I guess you won’t care, but for me, both films are long, unexciting films about low-affect thugs who talk a lot about how professional they are, and then act like idiots. In HEAT, DeNiro decides to kill a guy who’s threatening him with exposure, so he attacks the guy very publicly in a car park, using only blunt instruments, such as his fists and wits. One of those situations where I always think, “If a witness shows up and spoils things, I’ll be annoyed. And if a witness doesn’t show up and spoil things, I’ll STILL be annoyed.”

A witness shows up. DeNiro stops kicking the guy, acts innocent (he doesn’t quite rolls his eyes up and hang his mouth open like Harpo Marx looking innocent, but it’s similar) and when the witness (I think maybe a COP CAR) drives off, he gets set to resume the beating, but his prey has somehow crawled off and vanished. Even though he was right there.


Christian Bale lost 63 pounds, and then put them on again, to play Special Agent Melvin Purvis.

In PUBLIC ENEMIES it’s the Bureau of Investigation guys who do the stupid stuff, disobeying direct orders and getting killed, repeatedly letting Dillinger go by — Christian Bayle’s college-boy agents let him down continuously. So he gets some veterans from Texas, and the ignores their advice. Dillinger escapes again. It’s one of these combat-hardened vets who actually plugs Dillinger at the end, and he’s one of the few good characters in the film: Stephen Lang is steely-eyed and magnetic, and his character is actually competent, amid an ocean of assholes.

Mann could have used the factual catalogue of blunders to poke fun of the formative FBI, or he could have used the scenes of torture and reckless trigger-happy public endangerment to condemn them, but he doesn’t seem to want to say anything. I felt like yelling through the film at him, using it as some kind of Hi-Def ear-trumpet, quoting Graham Crowden in IF… — “Do You Have An OPINION???”

All this might pass if the film had an appealing aesthetic, but I struggled, I really did, to find anything worthwhile about it. Mann has spoken about how he tested the digital cameras for a lark, and found that on film, his test scene looked like a movie set in the ’30s, whereas on digital it looked like he’d gone back in time and was IN the ’30s. Which sounds nice, but it doesn’t play that to me. To me it looks like a YouTube video in fancy dress. Digital has advanced to a point where you often need expertise to tell it from film, but Mann succeeds in making it look fuzzy and dead.

(Full disclosure: my local gigaplex, the Vue Ocean Terminal, underlights its projectors, has disfigured screens, and lets light spill onto the screen from the exit. So the film wasn’t looking its best. But I still think this is one that’ll look better on DVD.)

Mann juggles oddball angles looking up under machine guns at faces, uses handheld shots to create a sick-making motion blur whenever he can, and cuts things into what Roman Polanski has called “that fruit-salad style…” The art deco locations are often dazzling, but the camera is never in synch with their cool splendor.

The “great romance” aspect of the film, not really borne out by history, is shot dead execution-style by the limp playing of Depp and Marion Cotillard (all her concentration is going on not sound too French) and by Mann’s total disinterest in women, which also results in the pathetic wastage of Lilli Taylor. Since Mann, like Cotillard’s character, is completely unconcerned with any moral view of what Dillinger does for a living, you’d think he’d have more identification with her.

(Roger Corman, in BLOODY MAMA and THE ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, both of which I saw recently, is likewise uninterested in preaching or taking sides, but he IS ripping the veil from off the American capitalist dream. You can’t accuse him of not having a point of view. All Mann has is a viewfinder, generally aimed up at somebody from under their armpit.)

Thing about MM is, he has lots of ideas, but they generally work better in his head than on the screen: the jump-cuts in MANHUNTER, the long-lens confusion of LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Of course, nobody with Mann’s sense and budget could make this movie without hitting some good points: the phone-tapping room, a constellation of little glowing lights; and Dillinger’s last night with his girl, in a barren moonscape lit by chill morgue-rays — such moments suggest that a ’30s digital movie COULD look beautiful.

And Dillinger’s sly visit to the offices where his case is being investigated — which I assume to be at least partly poetic license, since we never see him tell anyone about it, so how would the screenwriters know it happened? — is a nicely mythic and romantic moment, like Dillinger’s last words… a few moments of this kind impress, late in the day.

Oh, there’s another impressive actor in the thing: Peter Gerety as Dillinger’s lawyer. I wonder if his dialogue in court is straight from the historical record, because he sure talks better than anybody else in this film. Maybe such able thesps as Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff, Marion Cotillard and Giovanni Ribisi make such little impact because of the weedy dialogue, which is devoid of all period zing (in the zingiest slangiest era in American history!), stranding the cast in a neutral zone of slow, emphatic delivery. (I know pastiche is the last thing on Mann’s mind, but folks in ’30s flicks talk FAST, and that would be a wonderful thing to offer modern audiences.)

Beast of the City, The)_01

Got home and slung an authentic 1930s crime-flick, THE BEAST OF THE CITY, in the old Panasonic, and within minutes was exulting in lines like ~

Cop: Mind if I ask you some questions?
Jean Harlow: Sure, if you don’t ask them in Yiddish.

And ~

Jean Harlow (embracing cop): Are you going to reform me?

Cop: What for?

EVERY line in that film seemed to sparkle and crackle with lust, malice and wanton throwaway wit. By contrast, the verbiage emanating at snail-speed from the kissers of Mann’s barely-dramatis personae cuts about as much mustard as a hash-slinger with hooks for hands. See?

Still, Mann’s usual stumbling-block is music — I recall with rising nausea the synth-pop atrocities of MANHUNTER, the smorgasbord of ethnic stylings in THE INSIDER (“The most heterosexual movie ever made! It’s nothing but angry men shouting into HUGE PHONES!” – Ben Halligan) and the somnolent Tangerine Dream drones of THIEF. Here he does about as badly as you could do in a rich musical decade, but not half as badly as he normally does. The bluesy humming is actually quite nice, although it’s diluted with lots of other effects which don’t mesh into a whole, and every time the radio is on its Billie Holliday, which is fine but limited.


As in ALI, Man shows an interest in resurrecting history but never illuminates it. Dillinger appears to have escaped from prison in Indiana by carving a gun from a bar of soap, blackening it with shoe-polish, and holding up the guards. Woody Allen parodied this in his first film, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, where Allen’s home-made side-arm dissolves into a lather during a rainstorm. But Mann includes the incident without explaining the fake gun at all. (An alternative theory, from cult author Robert Anton Wilson: Dillinger meditated real hard, and teleported out of his cell. I’d watch THAT movie. Twice!)

Likewise he shows a judge taunting J. Edgar Hoover for never actually arresting anyone, without showing the punchline, which is included in Larry Cohen’s THE PRIVATE FILES OF J EDGAR HOOVER: Hoover stage-managed an arrest and turned up to snap the cuffs into place, a troupe of tame news cameramen in tow. Mann exposes himself as a filmmaker with no sense of humour — or storytelling.

A closing title tells us that (predictably dead-eyed) Christian Bayle’s real-life character resigned from the Bureau a year after Dillinger’s death, and killed himself in 1960. And I wondered, why tell us that? The movie hasn’t done anything to explain such actions, we barely even know this guy, so what’s the point of telling us?


61 Responses to “They’re Young, They’re in Love, and They Bore People”

  1. I thought that exact same thing about the little factoid about Bale’s character killing himself. Why tell us? It suggests Dillinger’s had something to do with his suicide, but a bit of digging on Wikipedia told me it was more likely down to depression over ill health.

    I have to disagree with you on the digital filming though, I really did think at the time how it looked like more like a window into the past than a period movie.

  2. Milius’s Dillinger is unmatchable, I think, and even manages to make ugly mug Warren Oates into a smooth criminal sex-god. I had been looking forward to this – tommy-guns! Hats! – sorry to hear it’s so terrible. I did smell a rat when I realised that the script was co-written by humourless Irish literary maven Ronan Bennett, whose film work to date is lifeless in the extreme. I share your low opinion of Mann, and put his high critical standing down to the critics’ need to have a Kubrick of their own to deify.

  3. MANHUNTER’s music: don’t recall the synth-pop, but I do vividly remember the use of Iron Butterfly’s IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA, used during the film’s climax. When I was in my adolescence this heavy-handed counterculture opus was an anthem of sorts, cool music for the uncool (years later it was revealed that the title was actually IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN, which made it seem even more ridiculous). So when I heard this in the context of the film I was a little surprised, and a little amused. I am not a fan of Johnny Depp, for that reason alone I have no desire to see this. And I’ve yet to see Warren Oates as Dillinger, he’s someone I do like as an actor (effective as Sissy Spacek’s father in BADLANDS, and of course one of THE WILD BUNCH). One film of Mann’s I do remember liking is THE KEEP, which I haven’t seen in twenty years or so, but people tell me it’s not that good, have to see it again to see if they’re right.

  4. Great review, David.

    Intelligent, ambitious directors are often given credit for having made intelligent, ambitious films when it just ain’t true. Often, intelligent, ambitious directors are rubbish at making films, and have made something inept and incoherent. (But ambitious!)

    And getting an Irish literary novelist to help write your script is the kind of stupid move only an intelligent, ambitious director could make. Because Irish literary novelists cannot tell stories in pictures, and can’t write speakable dialogue.

  5. Arthur S. Says:

    PUBLIC ENEMIES from how you describe it reminds me of Budd Boetticher’s THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND, a punk film avant-la-lettre if there ever was one.

    It’s sparser than sparse. It’s budget is cheaper than cheap but the hard, graphic brutalty in it leaps out of the screen. And it has one of the most iconic overhead shots of all time. Literally. Once seen, it’s forever remembered. But the style is terse and minimalistic just as PUBLIC ENEMIES seems to be. And the hero is a totally unredeemable S.O.B. who thinks he’s unkillable because he keeps surviving gunshots.

    One thing that irritated me about PUBLIC ENEMIES was reading some of the reviews and how they kept comparing it to BONNIE & CLYDE or THE UNTOUCHABLES(the Brian DePalma film). You would think that all those classic releases on DVD and internet interest in Old Hollywood or even seeing the posters in the THE PLAYER might teach them history. LEGS DIAMOND is obscure, granted, as is PARTY GIRL but what about SCARFACE, THE PUBLIC ENEMY and THE ROARING TWENTIES.

    The John Dillinger story has never been interesting to me. Although HIGH SIERRA’s Roy Earle is based slightly on Dillinger visually, though the story is totally different. And I find none of the Dillinger films especially memorable.

    I expected a different film than the one we seem to have. I thought that it would show how the FBI REALLY functioned. It’d be really bold to reveal cinematically that it was an organization dedicated to blackmail, subversion and breaking the constitution, founded by the most evil of all Americans.

  6. I don’t think I disliked it as much a you, and I recall liking HEAT, but man, maybe I really didn’t like it and I just tricked myself into thinking I had.

    I also wish Mann had used Fincher’s VIPER camera…now there’s a director (Fincher) who knows how to use a new instrument to make a film look great. This digital work here was interesting in some regards but overall rather shoddy.

    Anyway…here’s my mixed review of the film:

  7. One might expect Mann to benefit from a low-budget, acquiring a Boetticheresque sparsity, but I remember even his TV work as glossy crap. Watching the cafe scene from Heat played by TV actors in LA Takedown just show how hollow the material is, and how big-name actors can add an illusion of meaning.

    I was going to say that Mann probably hired Ronan Bennett because the latter had been in prison, briefly, on a false charge of bank-robbing and murder, but that doesn’t seem fair. And anyway, you never know what tortures a Hollywood screenplay has been through. But Face, written by RB in the UK, is an appalling piece of work. I could spend pages demolishing it.

    Still do see the Oates and Tierney versions of Dillinger, but I bet I prefer them both. Don’t much like Milius, or Walter Hill, but nevertheless the idea of Warren O as John D is very enticing. Love him in Alfredo Garcia.

    Mann’s vision of the FBI is farcical. A phone call from Hoover demands torture, and then we see it committed by a couple of agents while Purvis stands by, then Cotillard is tortured and Purvis intervenes — it’s like it was a small-scale phase and the good agent eliminated it.

    Guy: you’re right, synth-pop probably isn’t an accurate description of Iron Butterfly. Tangerine Dream, maybe. But the effect struck me as equally incongruous and destructive. One thing Manhunter’s climax really doesn’t need is a SONG.

    The digital filming? I didn’t like it but I can understand somebody feeling it worked in terms of immediacy. My inner airhead laments anybody making the ’30s look as ugly as this, though. And a bit of Hollywood lighting might have dramatized Dillinger’s glamour.

  8. Mann is such a strange character. He’s far from untalented, more then “reasonably intelligent,” quite pleasant and well-spoken in person, chooses interesting subjects, and has his pick of the best actors in the business. Yet he misses far more than he hits. The Insider is truly teriffic and The Last of the Mohicans (in which he had the wit to cast the great Patrice Chereau) is far from a mere potboiler. But Heat is a waste of time and Public Enemies is a waste of Depp.

  9. It can be problematic when a filmmaker wins plaudits for a lesser work, but Mann seems level-headed enough to cope with heat’s inexplicable success.

    In Mohicans, the bad decisions were: killing the landscape and fight scenes with the long lens, swapping the love stories around so that only a minor character jumps at the end. “I always have trouble with titles and endings,” said Mann, explaining why he chose the book. And he then wrecks the ending AND the title (which refers to a different character in the book).

    The use of music in The Insider goes way beyond inappropriate, it’s bizarre and insulting to all the cultures sampled from, but the movie is OK I guess. I quite enjoyed Ali, but it’s a muddle.

  10. Arthur S. Says:

    I didn’t like HEAT either. To me that film was overlong, overdone and despite all the talk about it being cold and moody, it’s over-the-top. How could it not be with Al Pacino in it. It’s useful for putting paid to all the DeNiro vs. Pacino debates. DeNiro despite being wooden still beats Al. I liked Jon Voight though.

    Matt Zoller Seitz’s next video essay series takes Mann as it’s subject…

    It’s interesting though I am not convinced of Mann being “zen pulp”…that’s Jean-Pierre Melville baby.

  11. David C, if you haven’t seen Milius’s Dillinger you really should. It’s his most enjoyable movie, his least right-wing, and you get to see a young Richard Dreyfuss as Babyface Nelson – the best bit of casting EVER. Ben Johnson as a cigar-chomping Purvis, relentlessly pursuing his foe without ever losing the certainty that he will win and Dillinger will lose, is another wonderful cinematic creation.

  12. I love your writing on film and this is an excellent review. But please… white text on a black background? Its almost as if you’re trying to make reading an entire article an endurance contest!

  13. Arthur S. Says:

    This is an odd review. Like this bit about Hoover…

    He admires his boss, J. Edgar Hoover, but Hoover is a romantic, dreaming of an FBI of clean-cut young accountants in suits and ties who would be a credit to their mothers.

    Which is actually kind of true though Hoover had no motherly intention towards said accountants.

  14. James, I’m told that dyslexics prefer it when it’s not the traditional black-on-white. Anyhow, it’s good practice for those Woody Allen title sequences we all enjoy so much.

    That IS strange, Arthur. I guess it stems from the scene of Hoover and the Junior G-Men… but I think that’s there to show what a publicity whore Hoover was. Mann of course daren’t get into Hoover’s true character. Homosexuality doesn’t exist in the world of Mannliness.

  15. Arthur S. Says:

    Hoover was a scumbag and the only legitimate film adaptation of his life would show the FBI like the Oprichniki from the colour scene in IVAN THE TERRIBLE.

  16. Oh it’s in there alright, but in traditional furtive ways, as in his feature film of Miami Vice. In this regard Mann’s ideal would be Jean-Pierre Melville. Melville would have like The Insider, but not much else.

    Mann’s Thief with Tuesday Weld isn’t bad.

  17. Mann is to Melville as people singing with their iPods on are to Ella Fitzgerald.

    (Syntactically contorted but you get the idea.)

    Haven’t seen MV. Who’s gay in it?

  18. Nobody’s explicitly gay but all films starring Colin Farrell are homoerotic. Especially in a cop vs. crook set-up (which is the essence of Melvillian homoeroticism)

  19. Joel Schumaker’s Tigerland tried to take the Farrell homoerotic factor to a new level. Didn’t quite work, it needed to be maybe 1% more overt to sever ties with standard mainstream stance, but it was quasi-interesting to see how far they could go. I know at least one straight guy who didn’t notice anything, so I’d say they didn’t quite take enough risks.

    And I’m told the director’s cut of Alexander removes all the same-sex stuff, probably the only interesting stuff in the film (and even then, interesting only in that it’s there at all in a giant epic).

  20. TRUE Colin Farrell homoeroticism is on unfettered display in the scandalously underrated A Home at the End of the World, in which he plays the world’s sweetest bisexual. Broke my heart in 28 places.

    In real life Colin’s brother is gay and Colin was best man at his wedding.

  21. David Boxwell Says:

    Shoot, even Nosseck’s cheapjack Monogram biopic of Dillinger (which may have been one of the most profitable movies made in the 1940s) has more going on in 70 minutes than Mann’s overlong “opposite sides of the law bromance.” And Lawrence Tierney may not “act” like Depp can, but he’s more magnetic.

  22. Tierney was a true man-mental! Unlike with Depp, you really believe he’s capable of instant sociopathic violence — whether the part demands it or not.

    I don’t want to blame Depp or Bale for the watery characterisations though, it just seems to me they have nothing to play, and are being encouraged to take forever with it.

  23. […] They’re Young, They’re in Love, and They Bore People Johnny Depp fulfills a lifelong ambition by having his name printed laterally across the shaft of his penis. Sometimes […] […]

  24. “Heart beat heart beat listen to my..heart beat”

    Wonderfully entertaining review, David. I thought I was alone in obsessing on how bad Mann’s choice of music is (Manhunter’s appalling Phil Collins-a-like piece quoted above almost ruins the film on its own).

    Good to hear that the great Stephen Lang is in it. His performance in Manhunter is mesmerising especially the raw fear you can almost feel as he is threatened by the stocking-faced Tooth Fairy.

    Just LOVE Johnny’s coat in that poster.

  25. All the design is good… although they probably could have gone even more glamorous with the women’s costumes, given the period.

    Lang is really aging interestingly.

  26. Stephen Lang’s performance in LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN was pretty unforgettable, as is the movie itself.

  27. He was also brilliantly weird as the ‘Party Crasher’ in John Badham’s brilliant The Hard Way (not the McGoohan way, putting those two characters in a movie together would, however, produce interesting results). I may have to go see this just for Lang.

  28. Too many ‘briliants’ in the above post. What am I, fifteen? No, just hungover.

  29. I see Lem Dobbs was a writer on that! I’m always interested in his stuff.

    Badham seems like a guy who’s tried to preserve a wee bit of ’70s spirit in his studio projects.

  30. Yes, his script is wonderful, particularly the streams of vicious and obscene invective directed by James Woods’ character towards Michael J Fox’s character. If you haven’t seen it you really should. Lang plays his character as the most cartoonish serial killer imaginable, higher than high camp, which is precisely right for this film.

  31. I do love the idea of Woods v Fox. Always meant to see this film and never managed to. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen Saturday Night Fever or Whose Life is it Anyway? either, making me essentially a Badham virgin.

    But I have seen his rubber bat and disco collar version of Dracula, if that’s any help.

  32. I’ve seen all the above, without having ever really made the decision to become a Badham completist, plus Blue Thunder (what a cast! Scheider, Oates, MacDowell, Candy Clark….) which I have practically no recollection of whatsoever. His first, The Bingo Long Travelling Allstars and Motor Kings, is well-regarded and I think I might just try to dig it out sometime. He seems to have disappeared into the badlands of American episodic tv which is a shame.

  33. Saw Bingo Long years ago in the early days of Channel 4. I remember it being lightweight fun. Dan O’Bannon, a writer on Blue Thunder, wasn’t keen on Badham at all. “He has the theory that dialogue doesn’t matter. I saw him talking to Roy Scheider, who was having trouble with a line, and Badham said, ‘Ah, just say anything and put the word “shit” in it.'”

  34. Hmm. I think, given the evidence of their respective work, I’d tend to side with Badham and against O’Bannon on pretty much anything at all! But maybe I’m just basing my opinion of O’Bannon on Walter Hill’s description of the work he had to do on Alien to render it filmable.

  35. Don’t! Hill tried to get O’Bannon and Shussett to give up on a screen credit, only for the arbitrators to rule that Hill and Giler contributed virtually nothing to the script. O’Bannon also basically wrote Dark Star. And return of the Living Dead is great fun, although he directed rather than writing it.

    Hill and Giler did make Ripley female, so we can thank them for that.

  36. I don’t entirely trust script arbitration to resolve these matters, my feeling about it has always been that Alien feels more like a Walter Hill film (pared-down, Hawksian professionalism in a genre setting) than an O’Bannon (much as I love Dark Star, it’s no Alien. Much as I love Lifeforce, it’s a bunch of completely disparate scenes linked together with hilariously terrible expository dialogue). But then, I’m biased, since I love nearly everything by Walter Hill (except Streets of bleedin’ Fire… the Cop Rock of movies). Still, if O’Bannon’s subsequent work had exhbited the kind of dramatic minimalism and edgy, profane blue-collar dialogue I love in Alien, I’d be happy to believe his version of events.

  37. Frank Rich writes of Dillinger in today’s New York Times. The article deals with how Madoff’s Ponzi scheme pales in comparison to the amount of bailout money given to our mega-banks, the same banks who are scrambling to raise rates in the face of the Obama Administration’s efforts to regulate and restrain their underhanded practices. He calls Mann’s film “haunting”, which sounds like an endorsement, but the real gist of what’s being expressed here has to do with why Dillinger was lionized as a folk hero during the Great Depression. Wrote one correspondent during that time, “Dillinger did not rob poor people. He robbed those who became rich by robbing the poor”. Just wondering as to how much the recent film addressed this angle.

  38. Arbitration is certainly very flawed — I think it’s possible O’Bannon writes bad dialogue, although I seem to recall him largely disowning that in Lifeforce, but it does appear that he and his pal conceived the idea of the Alien (possibly borrowed from an AE Van Vogt novel) and putting it into a B movie monster scenario. And O’Bannon wanted Giger — he introduced Scott to HRG’s work, which the producers weren’t interested in.

    O’Bannon’s view of Hill’s script additions, “Mainly he added swearing,” strikes me as all too plausible. But I do give him credit for Ripley and Lambert being female. That’s how Hill writes women anyway: write a bunch of men and then change the sex of a couple of them.

    They don’t really explain Dillinger’s popularity in PE, I think we’re meant to understand that people didn’t like bankers, and hey, it’s Johnny Depp. But they don’t show him flirting with hostages and stuff, really. I thought the Dillinger-as-star thing never came alive. And Bonnie and Clyde explained the folk hero thing a lot better, although that movie’s more guilty of romanticising.

  39. “possibly borrowed from an AE Van Vogt novel…”

    “Starbeast” – it’s all there. If anything it’s a melding of The Thing and Alien. Joss Whedon may have given a nod to it for the ending of Alien Resurrection too.

  40. Isn’t there also one called Voyage of the Space Beagle? I thought that’s where the alien parasite-killer came from. Fox apparently paid Vogt off when he sued.

  41. Also, of course, Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. But as they say, ‘success has many fathers while failure is an orphan’.

  42. I’ve worked out the novel thing. Voyage of the Space Beagle provides the alien parasite, whereas Starbeast was the script’s original title. Star Beast is an unrelated Heinlein novel.

    Planet of the Vampires and It! The Terror From Beyond Space seem like the pertinent movie influences.

  43. Sara and I went to see Public Enemies…and walked out half way through. We seen it at Vue in the Omni Centre and I don’t think it was your screen which made it look bad, I think the film just looked bad in general. The sound design was awful, the cuts were terrible and even the acting was pretty bad. I thought the some of the exterior shots were alright, we got alot of space to take things in, but the interior shots were just cluttered and I couldn’t even find which character I was meant to be focusing on? I spent the whole duration of a shot watching an extra walking by, because I thought he had some importance…turns out I just couldn’t find Johnny Depp in the scene.
    I might go see the rest of the film one day…

    Good to see Bale has lost his Batman voice though.

  44. I did toy with the idea of leaving, but I’m glad I stayed, the best bits are at the end. Depp in the police station is actually really good. But I agree re most of the visuals and staging.

    Bale’s next challenge should be to play an overweight falsetto.

  45. The sequence where Dillinger walks through the Dillinger squad’s office, running his fingers over the mug shots of his dead friends and reading the tattered news clippings about his old exploites, is just about the only part of the film that’s worth watching — you’re absolutely right that it’s the best bit.

    Other than that, though — my God, what a wasted chance! I loved the production design, and it’s got some great actors in it, but, as you (again) so rightly say, it has absolutely no sense of story.

    Also, although I can see why they did it, it was probably a mistake to show quite so much of Manhattan Melodrama, which I’m sure just made people wish they were watching a decently shot ’30s movie instead of Public Enemies.

  46. Most modern viewers have virtually never seen a 30s film, I fear, so they just won’t know any better.

    Supposedly Mann showed Cotillard Barbara Stanwyck moves, including Baby Face, to give her the right sense of style. It doesn’t come across. One fairly obvious feature of 30s cinema is that it goes like a train. To get modern actors up to that speed would take a bit of rehearsal and the dedication to really go for it — but I suspect Mann equates slow, ponderous delivery with serious intent.

  47. Yeah, as the editing of Hollywood films has sped up, the acting has slowed down. We live in an era of chipboard acting. Heavy wooden performances, chopped into tiny bits.

  48. It’s incredible that many people, including filmmakers (Penelope Spheeris, stand up) think that old movies are too slow. William Wellman could have made Public Enemies as a 75 minute barnstormer, without losing a nuance.

  49. I totally agree. I’ve been thinking a lot about this (I’m writing a modern slapstick script that requires very fast acting and very little editing). I’m amazed that so many US directors don’t seem to know how to shoot slapstick, or good martial arts actors. Jackie Chan is far more impressive, and far better served by the director and editor, in his lower budget Hong Kong movies, where he can carry out his stunts in a single shot in realtime, than in his Hollywood movies, where there are so many edits my mum could have done the scene.

  50. All too true. I guess possibly Chan NEEDS those edits now, when he didn’t before.

    But this relates to dance as well — hardly anybody knows how to shoot dance and cut it and have the confidence to let it be interesting by itself.

    As a director, slapstick is the most interesting challenge I know. It’s all about getting the right distance and space to have details register and yet see everything at once, in a single shot.

  51. Good review. I have seen the film twice and it is strangely muted. It just plays up to the “Dillinger Legend”, and most of the legend is eroded in the book Public Enemies. The book is a chronicle of how the FBI got from “there” (nowheresville) to “here” (under the skin of every American). Gerety’s lines in the film a pretty well verbatim from the text. I love Johnny Depp, but I really think that he missed the character of Dillinger, who was very talkative and had a wide and winning smile. The book cover the FAR more interesting robber, Canadian Alvin Karpis, whom Hoover loathed and feared far more than Dillinger and is truly an existential character who survived 27 years in Alcatraz and moved back to Canada, becoming rich as a lecturer and author. In the book Public Enemies, Karpis takes a police detective hostage after a robbery and drives out to a remote farm area. It’s midnight and pitch black. Karpis takes the detective out of the car and walks to the trunk. When Karpis opens the trunk the detective is prepared to see a Thompson submachine gun. Instead, Karpis gives the cop a golf bag filled with golf clubs as a token of remembrance. Then Karpis drives away, leaving the detective lost, alone, in the dark…and with a set of golf clubs. Hilarious.

    BTW, on my blog I add a link with each entry. Today, I added Shadowplay. Feels damned gooooood…

  52. Thankyou!

    Maybe they should make a film about each of the characters in the book: Public Enemies II, Public Enemies III. Only with a different director each time, to spare us Mann’s dumbly, numbly romantic approach. Karpis sounds like a great character.

    I love your images!

  53. First, THANK YOU! Thank you for your kind comment about my blog and pictures! I do appreciate it.

    Second, if you want to see an interview with Alvin Karpis, there is a really interesting series in order about Alcatraz, and Mr. Karpis is interviewed by actor Howard Duff:

    It is really eerie. Karpis, public enemy #1 and 27 year Alcatraz inmate is SO INCREDIBLY articulate and zen-calm. I have a friend who met him once and liked him. Fascinating man…

  54. Regarding the romantic approach, the film just perpetuates the Dillinger myth of the gentleman bank robber. There are other films that handle it worse though. Dillinger with Warren Oates. Oates was a great second banana, but as Dillinger he is bewilderingly miscast. Oates was literally old enough to play Dillinger’s father. You Dillinger, with Nick Adams, was aimed at the youth market and has the same feel of the thirties as Robert Redford’s hair in The Sting. Laurence Tierney did a pretty good job in the ’40s film of Dillinger. But even the Dillinger family had to say that they found an accurate portrayal in The Petrified Forest with Bogart as Duke Mantee, an allegory for JD.

    The book covers the Pierpont/van Meter/Dillinger gang, Machine Gun Kelly, the Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson gangs and the Barrow gang. Reading the adventures of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is different from the movie. Beatty does capture the dumb guy character with perfection, but otherwise these people lived like animals. The Penn film has little to do with reality, much like My Darling Clementine has nothing to do with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the gunfight at the OK Corral. But who cares? Both films are wonderful masterpieces in their own right. Just don’t make historical theses out of them.

  55. Er…that should be YOUNG Dillinger with Nick Adams.

  56. I recently was bowled over by Bloody Mama, which Corman admits isn’t particularly faithful to the facts, but which packs quite a wallop and is a bracing alternative to the more romaticized portrayal in Bonnie and Clyde. I need to see Corman’s other gangster films.

    Got the Oates-Milius Dillinger but have yet to run it. I think Oates could pull off something interesting by sheer charisma. The trouble with Depp’s version is he doesn’t get to be colourful AT ALL, doesn’t flirt with hostages, shows no reason why this guy should have become the celebrity he was.

    I will say this: Giovanni Ribisi is perfect casting, physically, for Karpis.

  57. Regarding Corman…check out The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Many nice performances. The narrative is pretty well a take-off of The Killers and George Segal does a near frame-for-frame re-enactment of Cagney’s speakeasy muscle scene from Public Enemy. Jason Robards is astoundingly miscast as Al Capone. Lots of bad twenties music…and I like that because in the twenties people were listening to lots of bad twenties music.

    The movie Public Enemies also avoids the big and fascinating issue of Dillinger’s PR dilemma, and Depp Mann don’t explore this crucial point. Dillinger was obsessive about his gentleman bank robber image. So much that he never even swore. (Depp says two profane words throughout the picture.) One apocryphal story goes that Babyface Nelson used the “F” word and Dillinger asked if the word appeared in the Bible. When Nelson said no, Dillinger asked Nelson to therefore refrain from using that word. The film is such a missed opportunity.

  58. The movie is apparently making money, but not so much that they’re going to rush out a bunch more 30s crime flicks, which is a shame. I’d like to see Lil Kim as Minnie the Moocher.

    Had the joy of seeing St Valentine’s Day Massacre on the big screen as part of the Edinburgh Film Fest tribute to Corman in June. Really good, dry, unsympathetic portrayal of the events — Corman swears this one is the most accurate account on screen. He admits Robards was miscast (but would Welles have worked???) The idea was to cast classical actors, which worked with Muni in Scarface, but really, Cagney was the better way to go. I like George Segal but his scene is pretty pale in comparison.

    Period gangster films since The Godfather have been really bad, seem to be even harder to get right than westerns and pirate movies!

  59. Lil Kim as Minnie. GOOD CHOICE!

    I was thinking about the Dorothy Provine 1957 film The Bonnie Parker Story. Provine’s first feature film had her made up like Mamie van Doren (no, not even Jayne Mansfield!) in the film. She enters a store to rob it. The music on the radio was definitely fifties rock and roll. What makes it worse is that, possibly but doubtfully for legal reasons, she teams up with bank robber Guy Darrow. Yes, you read it right.

    Lower than toe jam though, is the 1991 film Mobsters, a Young Guns takeoff/ripoff about the heroic rise of Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. They beat the mob and create a good criminal syndicate where everyone benefits. This film is truly sickening. The history and timeline are off, but there is no art to it. Don’t get me started about Once Upon a Time in America…

  60. […] in this. Critical opinion seemed to range from dismissive to strongly negative, with some blogs picking it apart for not being The Roaring Twenties. The AV Club had one of the first reviews I read, and it made my heart […]

  61. […] (My Michael Mann history: walked out of THIEF at school film society, aged 17 — been meaning to give it another try. I think THE KEEP tricked me into staying for the whole thing but then I felt cheated. Like quite a bit of MANHUNTER but it goes utterly wrong in the last third. THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS screws up its story and makes the wrong call on every single photographic decision. HEAT is extremely silly, the more so for being so serious. THE INSIDER has an appalling soundtrack assembled apparently at random. ALI is quite watchable but doesn’t quite add up. Skipped a couple, and then PUBLIC ENEMIES is a snooze.) […]

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