There just doesn’t seem to be enough reality when it comes to action and adventure flicks anymore. I know, such a genre has never teetered on everything looking and feeling completely real, but back in the day it was a bit more raw and rugged. You remember; those flicks where you could really feel the intensity build and build with each twist or turn of the camera. Its’ all too easy now with the emergence of CGI, almost too smooth and seamless, which is why I appreciate director’s like Michael Mann. He appreciates the art of moviemaking in its most vulnerable form, as depicted with his film “Public Enemies,” which can be found on DVD at your local retail outlet or online at Netflix.com.
Adapted from Bryan Burrough’s non-fiction book, Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34; the story here follows the trials and tribulations of FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), as he attempts to catch and put away bank robber’s like Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham), Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) and John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). Set during the depression era, these so-called ‘public enemies’ became cult heroes of sorts, as each would leave their mark in some special way. After catching and killing Floyd, Purvis is promoted by FBI director J.Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) and told to catch and bring down public enemy #1, John Dillinger. Of course, doing so was no easy task, as each time Purvis drew near, Dillinger got away, leading to one insane goose chase after another. But, after so many successful take’s, Dillinger started to get sloppy, especially after meeting Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard). What he thought would only be another piece to his ever-growing entourage became much more, further complicating matters for Dillinger as the FBI drew closer, leading to one good-old-fashioned showdown that will sure to have you fired up when it’s all said and done.
In a film that really doesn’t require a big cast, director Michael Mann sure put one together for the ages. And leading them all was the infallible Johnny Depp, who can pretty much do anything he wants given his recent resume in Hollywood. When I first saw he was going to play this role, I actually questioned it, unsure if he could pull off a character as diverse as John Dillinger. To no avail, he did and truly impressed me every step of the way, as I couldn’t help but get caught in all the moments Depp mastered. Maybe it was the crafty camerawork by Mann, but Depp had this ease at which he operated, thus making you love his character, which ironically was about as conniving as it got. He truly was brilliant and when that’s the case, you can’t help but love the supporting cast as well. Such names like Christian Bale and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, were amazing in scenes opposite Depp, proving they each can act outside their comfort zone when asked. Other notables like Billy Crudup, Giovanni Ribisi, Carey Mulligan, Leelee Sobieski and Stephen Dorff all made their presence known in short spurts, rounding out the cast, which ironically didn’t seem to be all that packed.
A lot of people may not realize this, but Michael Mann is not your typical Hollywood director. He won’t just rattle off one meaningless film after another, like some directors do. Maybe that’s because he is also a writer and producer, but either way, I like waiting for his films to come around every few years. Many have no clue who Mann is, and frankly couldn’t name more than one movie he has directed or produced, but he’s one of my favorite directors for one simple reason, which is he never overdoes it. No matter the project, Mann seems to always make it all feel so effortless. If anything, this might work against him sometimes, but to me, it’s a prime example of why he succeeds with stories like the one in “Public Enemies.” And after watching this film for the second time on DVD, I get the feeling he had wanted to make a film for awhile. It was too easy to feel Mann’s touch in places, often going out of his way with extended gun fights and action sequences, in a manner that was never too much and in-line with the era this story was built around. So even though the running time ran close to two and half hours, it didn’t deter the enjoyment you had watching this great cast move in out of some truly incredible shot sequences by a director that should be more well known than he is.