Public Enemies – Movie Review


[NOTE: This review contains possible spoilers.]

Batman takes on Captain Jack Sparrow in this adaptation of the non-fiction book Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough. For a film opening 4th of July weekend, I expected more than what I got. I was sadly disappointed by the film for reasons that will become clear to those who see the picture.

What happens when the camerawork gets in the way of the narrative? You get a shaky handheld feel with extreme close-ups that detract and distract. There was no reason for the way the film was shot. Shot differently, the film would have gained some appeal. Unfortunately, director Michael Mann decided to make a gangster film with camera moves inspired by The Blair Witch Project.

The problem with handheld cameras in a period piece is that attention is drawn to the filmmaking itself and not the story being told. If this were a documentary this would be less of an issue. But this is a linear narrative about John Dillinger and I would have liked to have seen better cinematography in play.

Due to the shaky camera, I recommend sitting as far back in the theatre as possible in order to no become disoriented, dizzy, or nauseous.

As mentioned above, extreme close-ups seem to be a favorite of Michael Mann. This also draws attention away from the story being told. How? You can see the actors’ makeup in these types of shots; you can also see their pores. Honestly, I don’t need to see any actors that close up on a giant movie screen.

And what about the acting? I like Christian Bale. I think he’s a great actor. But I can’t help but wonder why he keeps allowing himself to get cast in roles where personality takes a backseat to his penchant for brooding intensity. His role in Public Enemies as Melvin Purvis could be swapped with Bruce Wayne or John Connor and still have the same result. I’d really like to see Bale do a comedy where he can break out of these overly serious roles and stretch his acting skills.

Hand down, Johnny Depp is one of the most versatile actors of the 20th, and now 21st, century. Every role is unique, quirky, creative, and engaging. So his take on John Dillinger should encapsulate many of these qualities, right? Nope. Instead of creating another iconic character, Depp just seems to be acting just to get through. There’s a lack of creativity here. Perhaps it’s Mann’s direction that has resulted in a stifling of Depp’s genius.

Both Bale and Depp are capable of much better performances than the ones presented here.

So, is this film worthy of the 4th of July slot once owned by Will Smith movies? No. In fact, despite the negative criticism, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen seems like a much more likely candidate for this particular holiday weekend. We’ll have to see if Tommy Guns and gangsters can beat out robots and Megan Fox this weekend.

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