Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is over-dramatized, hyper-stylized, pulp triteness. Mr. Miami Vice himself is the last director in Hollywood who should be making a period gangster epic. His modern day, wide angle, handheld visuals are even less welcomed in a film that deserves to be more subtle in its effort to be powerful or memorable. But Mann doesn’t seem to ever get that. Everything in his films has to be glossy, Michael Bay-apprenticing fodder.
Normally Mann lets his actors scream, shout and overact their way through a story (e.g. Heat, Collateral), but here, the one good thing he brings to the film is the unusually nuance-less Johnny Depp and the strong female lead and Audrey Tatou-rivaling Marion Cotillard. Christian Bale is good as the increasingly conflicted, conscience-mining FBI agent working for Hoover himself, but Bale is just Bale. He doesn’t know how to be anything else.
Public Enemies is a great story, with great actors, amazing cinematography from the Scorsese Vet Dante Spinotti and a cool title (my blog’s name; however, was inspired by the 1931 James Cagney film The Public Enemy), but Mann wants it too flashy; Spinotti’s sets (while at times gorgeous) are over lit and the Tarantino-stylized shooting of John Dillinger in the final scenes feels like Mann’s cinematically masturbating in front of his audience. I mean, really? We need to see the bullet exiting Dillinger’s cheek bone before he hits the pavement face-first? Why is this moment so critical, other than the obvious? There are many other scenes that could have benefited from a little more build-up and celebration like this. Dillinger’s death was inevitable and expected.
Depp (as John Dillinger) and Christian Bale (as Melvin Purvis) really take their roles seriously in the film, but Mann wants Dillinger to be a larger than life character and his approach at making that happen is disappointingly unbalanced; other roles get under-utilized. Public Enemies tries too hard to be a cool, retro gangster flick — all jazzy shades of black, grey, green and amber with blink-inducing flares and muzzle flashes and crescendos of surround sound rat-a-tat-tats — when it could have just been a well-acted, taut, true-crime drama. Maybe Universal should have given it to Mamet.