Saturday, January 16, 2010

“Public Enemies” – Glossing over in high definition.

Two hours and twenty-three minutes. Wouldn’t you think you would care about at least one character after devoting that amount time to a film? I’ve got to hand it to director Michael Mann, those high definition cameras sure are...functional, even though they do nothing to help make this movie interesting. I guess he was so excited to use the equipment that he didn’t notice that he had created a complete bore.

I can’t lay all the blame on Mann though. As usual, the writers assigned to this film either had no interest in it whatsoever, or have the writing skills of a turtle. Did I mention they were adapting a book? A book about an actual person with a well-documented life? Hell, there’s even video footage of John Dillinger to reference. And what the hell was the author doing? He was a consultant on this film and didn’t think there was an issue with only showing three minutes of bank robberies. In fairness, I haven’t read the book, but if it’s as boring and pointless as this film was, I never will.

Normally, this is the point where I would start telling you about the movie and it’s story, but that’s impossible in this instance because there was no plot. I think the film was supposed to be a biopic, but we learned nothing new about Dillinger’s life. The film focuses on the year between Dillinger’s release from prison and death. Since we already know how Dillinger’s life ends, we’re expecting to get some insight into that time period and what happened. Instead, we’re given a mishmash of some FBI guys chasing him, shootouts, some French/Native American girl, and a smidgen of crime. Does that sound like an intriguing look at one of the most dangerous, ruthless criminals in the history of the country? It’s more like a Saturday morning cartoon.

If you don’t know anything about Dillinger, here’s a quick summary of that last year of his life. He robbed twelve banks and four police stations, broke out of prison twice and killed at least seven people. And, he was practically a celebrity to the public, since he was robbing the banks that many people blamed the Great Depression on. As a filmmaker, how do you fuck that up? How cool would it have been to see him robbing a police station? Instead, we get a guy who smirks at his own visage in a theater, refuses to take some poor schmo’s six dollars during a robbery, and has sex with his clothes on. No wonder J. Edgar Hoover was denied a funding increase. If Dillinger was public enemy number one, then public enemy number two must have been some guy who stole candy from a baby.

Even with the lack of any kind of plot, the characters could have saved this film if the director and writers had spent any kind of time developing them. Among the dozens of criminals and FBI agents are John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and J. Edgar Hoover. These are four of the most interesting people of the twentieth century and the only thing we learned is that those actors sure looked good in high-def. The characters we are supposed to care about are Dillinger, Agent Melvin Purvis, and Billie Frechette. Purvis is the agent heading the task force to catch Dillinger and Frechette is he girl I mentioned earlier.

Frechette is the easiest one to overlook, since she has little impact on the film or Dillinger, plus Dillinger seems to barely care about her. Even when she’s arrested and put in prison, Dillinger gives her about thirty seconds of thought before moving on to a hooker. If he doesn’t care, why should we? Similarly, we are just as apathetic about Purvis. One minute he is approving the torture of a suspect for information, the next he is carrying Frechette to the restroom after another agent beats her up. He blows multiple chances to apprehend Dillinger, then allows his agents to shoot him in the back of the head in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. Please explain to me why we are supposed to give two shits about this guy, even though he is supposed to be the main character. If nothing else, my only feeling was that he should have been fired for doing such a poor job.

As an exclamation mark to characters we don’t care about, Dillinger’s best friend, Red, is killed during an attack on their hideout. Since, we were given no information about this guy or his relationship with Dillinger, we have no sympathy for him or Dillinger when he dies. For all of the emotion shown by Dillinger for his dying best friend, he could have been flushing a goldfish down the toilet.

In the end, we’re left with a film that is not entertaining to anyone. The action sequences were even a bust, due to the insistence that it be done in high definition, which was actually detrimental to the visuals. It was difficult to tell what was going on during these scenes, other than bullets kicking up dirt and mortar and rarely making contact with a human. Add in the fact that it was shaking during these scenes and you can rest assured that Mann was most likely the person holding the camera. It was all he really cared about anyway.

Rating: Ask for $7.50 back. It’s the only thing you’ll care about after this film.

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