Review: "Public Enemies"

June 30, 2009
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Just when you've made it through another unfocused prison break sequence or another bank job more about the sound of the machine guns then the strategy or risk of the heist, "Public Enemies" gives a glimmer of hope it's going to become a better movie.

There are effective but far too-few moments between G-man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and his boss J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). Unlike Dillinger, these guys at least have overriding goals, which makes their side of the story more compelling.

Billie Frechette, the coat-check-girl turned moll, also has more of a story to tell. But in the hands of the unfocused script and Michael Mann's distracting direction, actress Marion Cotillard comes off as Meg Ryan with an accent.

Context might have helped. In "Public Enemies," the Depression takes a back seat. Everybody seems to be getting by just fine. Which diminishes the folk hero aspect of the story and makes the scenes with Dillinger himself (an uninspired Johnny Depp) the least engaging.

But it's a hard movie to give up on. Just when you are ready to throw in the popcorn bucket, there's Peter Gerety, making maximum use of his minimal screen tie as Dillinger's attorney. Or Stephen Lang, who gets some sharp late-in-the-game moments as a cop, hinting at the major supporting actor he could and should be. Lily Taylor, Giovanni Ribisi, and others keep circling in and disappearing too quickly. They breath life into "Public Enemies" while, at the same time, reminding us of what this rambling 140-minute exercise could have been.

Your thoughts?
  • Billie Frechette, not Franchette, with an accent is a ludicrous idea. She had a French father and a Native American mother and lived on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin until the age of 13. For four years, she attended a boarding school for Native Americans in Flandreau, South Dakota.

    Too bad Public Enemy isn't better. I was looking forward to it. Maybe I'll wait until it shows up on pay per view in a month...
  • Corrected. Thank you, Chuck.
  • YOU may have gotten a sneak preview, but it's tough for we 'little people' to comment on a
    movie that doesn't come out for a few days...
  • Hmm. Well, if there's at least a glimmer of hope, that's honestly enough to get me to a Michael Mann movie. I am getting a little worn out on Messrs. Depp and Bale, but they're usually at least interesting to watch. Mr. Mann has never let me down, though. (Okay, I haven't seen Miami Vice, but it can't be that bad. Can it?)
  • Hey Coyote... you can see it tonight if you want at 12:01 AM... since it opens tomorrow (and not in a few days). And I think critics are supposed to put the reviews out before or on the day it opens to the public, so he's right on schedule (1 day before). And then you'll be able to make your comments tomorrow, when it's open to the public... but judging from your last comment, not sure if it would be worth reading.
  • Coyotefan,
    I was with a full house of general public sneak preview-ites at the Galaxy theater. And, as Andrew said, the film opens this evening.
    The blog will still be here tomorrow...or whenever you get to the film. I look forward to reading your comments then.
  • I was at the screening of Public Enemies and I.m glad you pointed out the lack of focus because I was mixed in my feelings about the movie and you pointed out for me what I couldn't express. I had read the book Public Enemies awhile back and as the movie unfolded I remembered the book and that probably filled in the gaps for me.
    Also, I bought the book when the author was here at Borders and got to ask questions about the books focus. It really was the history of how the FBI evolved and how unprepared most of the men were. I'm afraid there was so much in the book that the gunshot approach just didn't do it. I did enjoy the authentic feel of the photography.
  • Don't forget. Columbus, IN's own Tim Grimm will also be appearing in Public Enemies. Tim is well know for his appearences at the IRT in Indianapolis. Tim and his wife moved here from CA to raise their sons. They are both still very seriously connected with their acting and song wringing careers.
  • Any mention in the movie or a scene, where Dillenger robbed the bank in Daleville. I grew up close to there so it peaks my interest.....

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