Public Enemies - Michael Mann (2009)

Recently reviewed on Le Mot du Cinephiliaque, Michael Mann's Miami Vice was a precedent to this review of his film of last year: Public Enemies. I'll try not to repeat myself on some of the qualities of Mann's films, I promess. My expectations for Public Enemies were really high, first because like John Dillinger I love Gangster films. Second, because Michael Mann's pictures are always as entertaining as cinematically great. Third, because it's Johnny Depp and Christian Bale two of my favorite actors around. I liked Bale since American Psycho and Depp well since Edward Scissorhands.

The last years of the life of the famous bank robber John Dillinger(Johnny Depp), his love interest Billie Frechette(Marion Cottillard) and the man who chased him, Melvin Purvis(Christian Bale) are the subjects of Public Enemies.

Besides being the classic hide and seek chase movie, Public Enemies revisits the classic Gangster genre. Well, Michael Mann's films have this quality that I ultimely respect from a filmmaker which is to make a personal film that will make money, satisfy the critics and have its unique approach. He never makes a movie where the viewer is despised or out of its "comfort zone". The themes he visits are classics; love, duty, passion, obsession, etc. I know I'll receive tomatoes and stuff but I'd like to make a comparison of Michael Mann with one of the greatest directors of all-time: Howard Hawks. Hawks always had his style, his own way to tell a story. He did it in the "classic" cinematic genres too like Westerns, Film Noir, Slapstick, Comedies and Hawks always managed to have commercial success with his films. Well, I think Mann is the same kind of filmmaker mastering within the boundaries of successful movie business.

Another interesting topic about Mann's moviemaking is how his action scenes are efficient for the viewer. They never fell forced or useless but their major appeal is how they feel true. Linked with the action scenes are the scenes that leads to the action and that's what Mann is truly a master at. There are not that many shootings in Public Enemies, because Mann takes all his time to develop the motivations of the characters. Some frames are unusual but they don't feel arty just to be "cool" he doesn't have an exuberant style like Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, but his sober "mise en scène" and deep realism that caracterize his filmmaking keeps the focus of the audience on the main elements of the movie: the characters, the story, and the dialogues.

If you haven't seen the feature I must warn you that the next section contains spoilers.

The whole film is a strong piece of Cinema. But to me, the final 30 minutes or so of the movie are just sublime. The scene where Dillinger enters in the Police station in the Dillinger squad room and looks at all the pictures and stuff about him. A place where every policeman must have dreamt to know where he is hidden and to catch the guy that is just standing there and asking for the score of the game. This is a blissful moment of Cinema. Moreover, the scene that comes after this, where Dillinger is at the movies and watches a Clark Gable picture titled Manhattan Melodrama he sees what could have been a different (happy?) ending for him. It's a fact that John Dillinger was a movie buff. The scene is not that long but its execution and the build up of the tension is just perfect. We all know how it's gonna end but just don't know exactly when, the wait is endless.

Few films have this mastery to achieve to execute a powerful effect of the "film in the film" like that and in Public Enemies it's just excellent.

A Movie Review by Michaël Parent

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