While visiting the folks in Arizona, I got a chance to see the new Michael Mann crime epic, "Public Enemies". I've been a fan of Mann for some time, there is always room for watching cops and robbers go at, and no one really does it better than him. He paints a dark, gritty picture, full of strong men of action, consumed by a world bigger and meaner then themselves. Viewing "Heat", with "Public Enemies" or "Miami Vice", you see how the director has honed his talent, focusing less on messy plot contrivances and more on the characters inhabiting his dark landscapes. Visually the film is beautiful, filmed in HD and proud of it, it wastes no time trying to make you think you're in a period film. It's almost as if the ugliness of HD, of video immerses you more seamlessly in the immediacy of the proceedings, without the glowy soft focus of a "PERIOD MOVIE" or the gussied up costumes, it tries it's damnedest to let you view things as if you were right along side the criminals and the cops chasing them, with none of the beautiful lies of Film.
The performances are incredibly unique and timeless. In a away it seems like the style that Marion Cotillard is using is something from the bygone era where actors were still free to experiment, all the performances here brought me back to the style of acting witnessed in "Midnight Cowboy" and "Bonnie & Clyde". She has real sincerity and sadness in her role, and at the same time, is a classic femme fatale. It was a very special performance that I'm sure will be forgotten come Oscar season. Christian Bale also really nails his performance as Melvin Purvis, a dyed in the wool believer in Good & Evil, and the necessity of social Justice. It's beyond what he has done in the past, and I am consistently impressed with how he can take the smallest details, little bits of dialogue and weave the most intricate tapestry of motivation behind his eyes. In this film he is the villain to Depp's Dillinger and he plays an honest man, but a ruthless killer who can sleep soundly at night knowing he's closed the eyes of the bad guys for good. There is no ambiguity to him, but deep down, he is only human, and he does appear to be humane. He and Cotillard's performances are not big showy things, but subtle, fragile and beautiful.
Depp is the star here, and rightfully so. I find myself disappointed with a lot of his more commercial work, but I have great faith in Mann for casting, he's got a great eye. Dillinger is played as real as possible, stripping away the myths of a Robin Hood, we see just a hood who was weaving a facade, the pretty boy looking out for the common man. In the end he still largely remains a mystery, he has no big moment where he explains his real intentions or plans but we see a small amount of time in his life in a very intimate way. Could you say you know anyone after only witnessing a few months of their life? The film embraces this, from it's harsh visuals, to it's immaculately re-created locations on the actual sites that many of the events occurred at. Every facet of the film embraces this idea of any divining any deeper meaning here is futile, there is a recognition of the separation of reality is separate from film, and that "Public Enemies" existence on the screen is a vouyeristic dramatic thrill that acknowledges that these people and world were real, before they died and faded into memory and myth and that this film, and in a way all film, is only a dim mirror with which we observe these myths.
I found "Public Enemies" to be intelligently crafted at every level, and Michael Mann's best film. His style continues to evolve and he seems completely aware of his fabricated universe down to every pixel on the screen. In the abridged words of another critic, it's refreshing to see an industry standard like Mann, an old dog, learning new tricks. In a way through his refreshing use of HD video, he has brought art cinema to the mainstream. He has gone beyond using handheld or steadicam HD video as just a cheap way of filming and has instead deeply explored through it's use why it exists in the first place. Like a great home movie, video has a way to transport us directly, touch us more viscerally then film, and Mann is showing us how.
5 used shell casings out of 5