Going into this year, Public Enemies was easily one of my top five most anticipated movies of 2009. Although he'd lose out to Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers, I look forward to Michael Mann's films more than most. Since my son was in town, I had to go see this movie at 10:35 PM, which had us leaving the theater after 1 AM due to the 140 minute run time. Usually this is not a great strategy for watching a film you really want to see, but oddly enough I was alert and attentive throughout the entire film and was able to enjoy it immensely.
Much has been made of the visual style and sound mix, and it is revolutionary as well as controversial. Mann, who has used the digital camera on his last couple films, delivers another beautiful looking film that completely breaks the mold of how an epic period piece is supposed to look. The first twenty minutes were so full of amazing and unusual shots, I found myself distracted by them. As for the sound, the levels did seem to be a bit off throughout, but holy crap, you will never hear more realistic sounding guns in a movie. For me, these were non-issues, and as the "film" progressed I was engrossed in the action and as well as the superb performances.
Johnny Depp coolly portrays John Dillinger as a hardened killer without much of an explanation or back story. This was also an issue with many critics, but I found it so refreshing that this didn't turn into a character study/biopic. Marion Cotillard (who won the "Best Actress Oscar in 2007 for La vie en rose) gives a nice performance here as Dillingers love interest. The relationship is a bit shallow and sometimes melodramatic, but it didn't detract from the film at all, and overall I thought it really earned the emotional moment at the end. Christian Bale was a significant factor in my early estimation of this film's potential, but he ended up being the weakest part of the film. As with all of the characters there was very little development for Melvin Purvis (Bale), the hotshot FBI agent tasked with taking down Dillenger, and it didn't help that he appeared to be trying not to over-act, as he's been accused of doing in his last couple of films. The result was so understated as to almost render him invisible on screen. The first face to face confrontation between Dillenger and Purvis was fun, but could have been much more powerful if Bale had matched Depp's intensity and bravado.
I've been nit-picking this movie, because as a whole I don't think there's much wrong with it. I highly suggest you go see this movie. It's the best summer action film you will see this year, at least until August 21st (Inglourious Basterds!!!). Michael Mann is the type of director whose films deserve to be seen; each and every one of them. His style and method of story telling and filming action is unique and often refreshing in the midst of so many action films that are merely exercises in excess. Public Enemies does not deliver the greatness of Heat or The Last of the Mohicans, but it deserves a lofty, respectable position among his filmography.