Friday, August 21, 2009

Public Enemies (Rhoades)

“Public Enemies” Wins Over the Movie Public

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

John Dillinger was a bank robber. And a ladies man. His penchant for pretty women in red dresses got him gunned down by the Feds in front of Chicago’s Biograph Theater in 1934.

Legends grew up around this famous outlaw. That it was a double who’d been killed (yeah, and the real Dillinger’s hanging out with Elvis). That he had a humongous sex organ that’s on display in a jar in the Smithsonian (I couldn’t find it on my last visit). That he could clear out a safe in “one minute and forty seconds … flat” (it takes longer than that for a teller to simply hand over the money).

But “Public Enemies” – the John Dillinger movie that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema – is meant to be entertainment, not a documentary.

This biopic stars Johnny Depp as the handsome Public Enemy No. 1. And Christian Bale (sans Batman cowl and cape) is his nemesis, FBI Bureau Chief Melvin Purvis. Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard plays Dillinger’s love interest Billie Frechette, while Branka Katic is cast as Anna Sage, the infamous lady in red.

You’ll find the good-looking bank robber surrounded by other good-looking criminals: Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham). You may start feeling like this is a gangster version of “Young Guns.”

But Johnny Depp is a chameleon worth watching. He sucks up a role and oozes that character out through his very pores. And Bale may not have the same range, but he’s charismatic nonetheless.

Depp admits he identified with the part. “It has to do with my family and my upbringing,” he explained. “My grandfather, who I was very close to as a kid, had run moonshine into dry counties like Robert Mitchum in that movie ‘Thunder Road,’ and my stepfather also had been a bit of a rogue and done burglaries and robberies and had spent some time in Statesville Prison in Illinois where we ended up shooting some of the film.”

While doing research for the film, Depp discovered a mug shot of his stepfather in the files at the Statesville maximum-security prison.

“The fact that Dillinger was born and raised about 60 or 70 miles from where I was born and raised, was the moment that I could hear his voice, that was the moment when I knew what he sounded like, I knew what he acted like, I knew that confidence, that strut, because I’d seen it in my grandfather, I’d seen it in various men I’d known all my life, my stepfather.”

Christian Bale as the square-jawed FBI agent opines that America is fascinated by these gangster stories of the ’30s because the period was like “the dying days of the Old West.” This from the star of “3:10 to Yuma.”

Although “Public Enemies” is directed by Michael Mann, you’ll be reminded a bit of Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.” Same city. Same time period. Same crooks, almost.

I’d still give De Palma’s film the higher marks. But that’s not to take anything away from Michael Mann. I’ll still choose Mann’s “Manhunter” over Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”

And let’s not forget Depp’s smooth performance. Or his appeal to young women who might not otherwise venture into a shoot-em-up crime movie.

One online blogger described it well: “A first rate gangster flick, steadily filling the screen with a barrage of machinegun bullets, almost to the point that you can smell the gunpowder from the fifth row.”

Sniff, sniff. Is that gunpowder I smell? Or the sweet smell of box-office success?

[from Solares Hill]

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