Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review - Public Enemies

Those familiar with Michael Mann’s directorial style will understand the seeming lack of charisma in Johnny Depp’s portrayal as John Dillinger. Mann is more concerned with the actor understanding character than the audience, placing emphasis on backstory and on details that never come across on screen. Thus, Depp’s performance is in no way showy (or even particularly memorable), but is much more realistic, and one of his most internalized since Edward Scissorhands. Supporting roles of note include Billy Crudup as the smarmy but savvy J. Edgar Hoover, Stephen Graham as the sadistic “Baby Face” Nelson, and Marion Cotillard as Dillinger’s girl Billie (an underwritten and 2-dimensional character that Cotillard makes the most of nonetheless).

Aside from acting, Mann also goes for aesthetic realism, shooting Depression era America with startling clarity on digital film. The sets and costumes are designed with historical accuracy in mind first, sacrificing stylistic unity and prettiness – which can be seen as a good or a bad thing.

If the film has a weakness, it’s the action sequences; the shaky camerawork does not fit well with the high-resolution images, causing a loss of focus and cohesion. The sound is mixed with the intent of placing the viewer in the middle of the action, quite successfully too, but adds to the confusion. Also a tad confusing is Elliot Goldenthal’s score, which can’t make up its mind between southern acoustic or heavy orchestral.

All in all, Public Enemies is a solid picture one would expect on Mann (even if it is too long), and it’s certainly Oscar-worthy in a number of categories, but its lack of showiness may keep it out of some key races. For now, I’ll keep my predictions put until some stronger contenders emerge.
**1/2 out of ****

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