Movie Review – Public Enemies

Plot: In this 1930’s crime drama, Melvin Purvis leads the investigation to capture the notorious bank robbers lead by John Dillinger.

When I first heard about this one, I was pretty excited.  After seeing all the trailers though, I lowered my expectations quite a bit.  I was right to do so.  There is a lot to like here, but for the most part I found it underwhelming.  There are some fantastic individual scenes, but the movie as a whole can’t live up to the greatness of its actors.  The acting is very good, but the direction is weak, especially in the pacing.

Although there are moments of great tension such as scenes at a stop light and an interrogation, the pacing was a big problem overall.  At times it moved incredibly slow and it was a yawn fest, but would suddenly pick up to full intensity in a matter of seconds.  Sometimes this works in movies, but here it catches you so off guard, it becomes frustrating.  This is very apparent in one of the prison scenes.  It was very slow and the tension just wasn’t there, but suddenly it heats up.  It would have been stronger if I was on the edge of my seat right before it happened.  The movie also seems to have the same formula throughout the near two and a half hours.  Bank job.  Hiding out.  Shoot out.  Bank job.  Hiding out.  Shoot out.  It gets pretty tiresome.

I have to say though, the shoot-outs were the best scenes.  Why did I like them so much?  The sound.  Yeah, I know.  Machine gun sound effects have only been used a billion times, but for some reason they stood out to me here.  They were so crisp and loud, but in a good way.  Also, watching the sparks come out of the guns looked real good.  They always had a perfect camera angle on it.  So if you really like shoot-outs, I would definitely see Public Enemies.

The acting was solid, but unfortunately I didn’t feel like you got to know these characters very well.  Johnny Depp does a good job as Dillenger, but there wasn’t much to it.  There are maybe three scenes where you get a good sense of who this guy is, but mostly it’s just a lot of close up shots of Johnny Depp looking intense.  It was disappointing, because in the rare moments director Michael Mann decides to let you in on who Dillenger is, the dialogue is strong and the performance is great.  I needed more.

Now Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis is all intense close up shots, but Bale does those so damn well, that I didn’t mind it as much.  And there are moments, especially when he’s back at headquarters, where you get a good feel for who this guy is.  There is one scene between Dillenger and Purvis where they exchange some pretty intense dialogue.  I thought the best performance of the movie though was Marion Cotillard as Dillenger’s girlfriend, Billie Frechette.  By far the best scene in the movie is her conflict with a cop towards the end.  It was some powerful stuff.

I thought the climax was handled pretty poorly, but the very last scene was perfect.  So although there are moments of greatness, it was just an okay movie that had some damn good shoot-outs.  If these characters had more time to talk and interact with one another, the stakes would have been higher, making those shoot-outs mean more.

We have Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, let them act, dammit.  It was just too jumbled a film to say it was good.  It’s okay.

Rating: 6.0 out of 10. 

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