REVIEW: Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009)

Public Enemies is an on and off movie. It gets off to a very rocky start with the jerky (not shaky) cam in full, annoying force but effectively sets up the characters if you're paying close attention. Only at seldom is the movie very "on" during its first half and it takes time to warm up to. Even when one aspect appears to have had potential, something else falters, for example the coat-check bit when the script seemed to call for a more whimsical scene but the cinematography insisted on attempting intensity.

Thankfully the second half is very "on" with its more developed ideas, emotions and tommy-gun strobe effects. It redeems most of the first half as with the coming of the cabin siege scene (which was a real Michael Mann tour de force despite the fact that for a moment there it threatened to become a mere series of dudes shooting guns) it leaves behind most of the jerky cam techniques and successfully villainizes each of the characters while simultaneously making us sympathize with them. By the end of the film adrenaline is pumping and the proceedings are enjoyable. The final scene does seem unnecessary as, to the attentive audience member, the information provided therein is already apparent, but it ends up a pleasant surprise as it conjures a (possibly unintended) homage to The Godfather.

As for the key players, Depp's tragic, eventually likable Dillinger often seems too modern but is ultimately successful while Bale does what the script calls for, which works. The supporting cast is a real treat, featuring fun appearances from the likes of David Wenham, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff (whose name is misspelled in the credits) and many others. A real stand-out is Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover, putting forth the most depression-era-ish feel the film has to offer. Speaking of the depression, the current economic downturn makes this a good time for Public Enemies to see release. Even when the historical story becomes repetitive (heist, apprehension, escape, rinse, repeat) the underlying themes remain relevant.

All in all, the very Manny (if you will) Public Enemies is Heat in 1933 with lots of jerky cam. It is very watchable, its second half is solid and as a whole it is quite interesting despite never going far enough to become entirely compelling.