Review: Public Enemies

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“I‘m John Dillinger.” Johnny Depp matter-of-factly presents himself to would-be girlfriend Billie Frechette early on in Michael Mann’s new up close biography on the infamous American gangster. Later, he elaborates, “I rob banks. I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars. And you.” And there is Public Enemies in a nutshell from a narrative stand point. In fact with its alien cinematography, township-sized supporting cast and restless continuity, this may be one of the great modern audience-unfriendly movies to come along in some time. But, therein lies its strength. Movie audiences are all too familiar with the bio-pic, the historical epic, or the period-piece. Along comes Michael Mann, a pros pro, to goose audiences with a new rebellious aesthetic, and a new way of conveying a story that may take some time getting used to. But likely in 15 (or 5) years from now, it will be looked upon as a pioneering motion picture in both tone and texture.

Lets start at the beginning. There is no beginning. Unlike the glut of superhero pictures and musical biographies out there, there is no ‘young kid has traumatic experience that shapes his life into what he is’ There is no probing into what or who or how John Dillinger became a world-class bank-robber and robin-hood figure, knocking over banks in one minute forty five seconds. Flat. No, Dillinger just is. He clearly is not much deeper than his own live-in-the-moment impulses. This very fact does not make the move lack humanity or act as a shallow look on a mythic American celebrity, but rather makes this story so contemporary. We want things and we want it now. We are enticed with expensive yet disposable toys and trinkets and privilege, even if the economy (albeit nowhere near as bad as the 1930s of Dillinger’s day) is bad. We have credit; Dillinger had a Tommy Guns and network of accomplices (including Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd ) and a skill-set for planning that went way above the capacity of the law in his day. Chicago in the summer. Florida and Cuba in the winter. Expensive sunglasses and the ability to work where-ever he wanted to. Those who say Public Enemies has no point of modern resonance, or connection to humanity in all the fractured narrative, hand-held cinematography and sea of gangsters and G-men, may want to look again. Much like the crazy impulsive, yet disciplined life he lived, the film is wild, uncertain and rigorous in form. The characters are made strangely mythic in Mann’s attempt to de-mythologize them. John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis (a happily restrained Christian Bale) are not showy guys, they do what they do and let their actions and decisions speak to a wider audience. You don’t have to dig too far into these portrayals of professionals doing what they do professionally to understand that this is Michael Mann’s sandbox and he makes a mighty fine castle in the center here.

To (clumsily) stretch out a cumbersome metaphor, the princess in the castle, Dillinger’s object of affection Billie Frechette is a kept woman, pampered and imprisoned by her lover’s lifestyle. Marion Cotillard darn well steals every scene she is in. The rest of the picture may be pushing into uncharted visual and narrative territory but the love story at the center of Public Enemies is as old-school Hollywood in tone as I have seen in some time. There is restless energy, and scrappy vulnerability all conveyed in Cotillard’s glances and body language. She may not be the strongest of characters in the script (everyone is a pale second to Dillinger in that regard), but much like Marisa Tomei in her last few films, she pulls out a knock-out performance by pure act of will. And makes it seem like an effortless thing to do. There seems to be a wise acknowledgment by the director in this by giving her performance the focus of the final scene in the film. Likewise, a scene involving interrogation by the G-men thugs goes further to underline Cotillard’s unvarnished star power. The scene is violent, ugly and truly encaptivating. (As a bonus, it has the side effect of giving added dimension to Agent Melvin Purvis who is seen as rather stuffy, yet comes out as the consummate professional.)

As a history lesson, I do not think the film can be taken in on a single sitting (giving the picture an unusual connection to another recently great biopic, Steven Soderberg’s more analytical Che or Andrew Dominik’s lush The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). It is likely that a boatload of minutae in the book the screenplay was based on (Bryan Burrough’s “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34″) is merely skimmed over in the film. But the fairly lengthy runtime of 2 hours 23 minutes, I believe, was indeed necessary for tone. The lifestyle and pressures that wash effortlessly off of Dillinger’s conscience as well as the multitude of people he came in contact over his capers require such length. The film deserves its long talking hide-outs to accompany the rat-a-tat-tat bank robberies and muzzle-flash gunfight getaways. The film perfectly conveys the feeling and rush (and the joys taken from this), but it also also about the somewhat shallow emptiness that inevitably tags along. Many bodies are left in the wake of Dillinger. And many a ‘square’ government career is made though politicking on his infamy. I would have liked to see more of J. Edgar Hoover here. Was that Billy Crud-up? You could have fooled me as he is about as far from “A Golden God” or “Blue Superbeing” as possible. Hoover is a man who knows his own media power and that a ‘beaucratic dictatorship’ was the wave of the future. So, in light of J. Edgar’s posturing in political circles, it falls to Melvin Purvis and his imported Arizona professionals to do the real work. Stephen Lang plays Charles Winstead who gets a few knock-out lines on the simplest of common sense. Would Dillinger see a Shirley Temple film or the Clark Gable tough guy flick? Similar to an anonymous sharp shooters’ dramatic line of dialogue in Miami Vice about what is going to happen she shoots her target (the other half of the conversation) in the head, or Mark Ruffalo’s competent if behind-the-curve cop in Collateral, or the Alabama lawyer in The Insider (see here), Michael Mann is not afraid of giving a big “Star”-line or scene to a supporting character. Less bombast for the hero, more veracity for the film. That is the sort of smart filmmaking that is woven throughout Public Enemies as much as it is throughout Mann’s other films. The directors penchant for complex action set-pieces is also on display in fine form. Several jail-breaks, bank robberies and the like are executed with flair and a real sense of geography. The signature set-piece being a nocturnal assault by the law on the forest cabin housing John Dillinger, Baby-face Nelson and others. Done in practically zero-light, outdoors on location with only the muzzle-flashes to illuminate things, it is a doozy that is both heightened with HD grain and shaky camerawork and also startlingly immediate.

There is an undercurrent of sexy-cool in the picture even as it resists the notion of iconography. Dillinger is portrayed as a man with no long term plans, living life high on the hog, devil-be-damned. In other words a film made in and for contemporary times. In this age of the meaningless and glossy blockbuster, the uncomfortable cinematography and its ‘audience unfriendly’ structure is a major strength in Public Enemies. It provides a way of refracting crime/celebrity/road-trip/romance from Bonnie & Clyde to Badlands to Natural Born Killers) in an exciting and unique way.

Kurt Halfyard
Resident culture snob.

63 Comments

  1. Very nice review. I loved the cinematography, as well, and agree that the sheer unconventionality of it will turn the average movie-goer off. Does Mann do his own camera work? If so, I think it's his best work yet (or at least up there with Heat), from a creative standpoint. From the opening seen, I was marveling at the movement of the camera and knew I would like this movie. That shot during the cabin getaway where Depp was taking cover behind a tree and in the background, in slo-mo, you could vaguely make out that cowboy dude urgently creeping closer in the faint shine of moonlight, weilding a giant shotgun, and then the angle changes when Depp turns around to unload his tommy gun, and the cowboy dude was gone made me lose my shit. Just brilliant.

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  2. I believe that Mann did some of the handheld work for Public Enemies. But the cinematographer is his longtime collaborator, Dante Dante Spinotti who also did HEAT and THE INSIDER.

    my only complaint in the cinematography dept, was that you could see the actors caked in makeup several times. I wish he had his actors go sans-makeup, or somehow worked out a way for the cinematography not to dwell on showing the actors pores plugged with make-up. The only distracting element of the film for me.

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  3. I'm waiting for DVD on this one, honestly, because I hated Miami Vice that much, and have seen too many comparisons to it to trust Mann with full admission price.

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  4. Wow, I really don't get where you're coming from on this one.

    Alien cinematography? Pioneering? This film was rote, I would absolutely describe it as "shallow look on a mythic American celebrity". A quaint retelling of all the Dillinger greatest hits, which have already been put to film twice. Am I wrong in thinking it begins the same way as the Warren Oates version? I coulda sworn it did.

    What did this film add to the subject. Depp waltzes into the scene, swagers around, says his catch phrases and waltzes out. End scene.

    There's no establishing of the setting that's so important to the story and why he became a folk hero.

    Cuba? Really, he went to Cuba? I don't recall that happening.

    It felt every single performance ended up on the cutting room floor. A character shows gets a fancy close up, says his line and that's it for 'em. GONE. Ribisi, Soobieski, Crudup, Baby Face; who are all these people? The film is only about Depp and it's his worst performance.

    The worst were the Texas lawmen (or Arizonian I guess). They get some huge entrance and then don't do anything. I didn't even realize that Shirly Temple / Clark Gable guy was one of them. How could you tell?

    This is spinoti's worst work (I haven't seen all his films), the film is an aborted halfway measure between typical period piece gloss and MV style grit.

    Sarah Palin's resignation speech made more sense than this review. I think I literally disagreed with every word you wrote.

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  5. Gotta say that I'm a bit torn on this one. Maybe, like Miami Vice, after another screening or two I'll learn to love it. This is an old-school cops and robbers flick straight out of the 40's. And I liked it. But…

    The problem with the cinematography is in its inconsistencies. One moment everything looks gorgeous, the next it looks like a video my mom shot at Christmas 1991. I do like the style, it just swayed back and forth from interesting to amateur (for lack of a better word).

    Mann certainly is not afraid to showcase the details of the set decoration is he? Mann that aspect was awesome – radios, cars, gun close-up (and even seeing the details as they're taken apart), costumes, street scenes, right down to the drink glasses. It was fun to just look at the antiquity of everything.

    I have to agree with Rusty on the casting – or at least the use of said cast. It was extremely distracting to see Giovanni Ribisi for 2 minutes and then gone. And Sobieski? Where the fuck did she come from and why? She served almost no purpose. It was simply jarring to see star power show up out of the blue like that – several times.

    I'll have to dwell on this some more. I really liked the movie, but there were a lot of problems I took away from it.

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  6. Rusty articulated most of my complaints perfectly.

    There's also a lot of shots that force the viewer to see exactly what Mann wants you to see, to the point of cutting off all the extraneous information in the scene so you can see the one detail Mann thinks you shouldn't miss. It's rather blatant hand holding, and incredibly restrictive and ponderous. He's clearly showing that he has no confidence in his audience to see the story he is telling.

    Though I guess because Mann's name is on the film Kurt thinks that is a good thing.

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  7. "The characters are made strangely mythic in Mann’s attempt to de-mythologize them."

    I like the way you put that, and I agree with you. The romance in Public Enemies felt like something out of a fairy tale at times despite the fact that it's pretty true-to-life.

    Johnny Depp's portrayal of Dillinger is both humanizing and mythic. It seems impossible that anyone could be so smooth and charismatic, but that's part of what the public loved about him.

    I only wish Public Enemies had delved into John Dillinger's Robin Hood status. It's an important part of the Dillinger story, but it's barely touched upon in the movie.

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    • I don't know, I thought the "Robin Hood" feel to his character was pretty apparent. It was obvious the public loved him. Even the press loved him. When he's being hauled to prison in the car and the camera pans across all of the faces cheering, smiling and waving at him was pretty blatant.

      All of the references Kurt makes in the review are valid. From Jesse James to Natural Born Killers.

      Oh and I rather liked the score.

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  8. File me under the "loved it" catagory. I agree with Kurt – it'll probably alienate most of the audience who come to it looking for an action-fest. Even when the guns are a blazin', it never feels like a conventional action flick (although the forest shootout rivals the one in HEAT). Very dynamic and unusual in the way it feels and portrays everything, at least for the type of the film that it is.

    I thought Depp was superb – loved that he played the character cool as ice, swaggering and catchphrasing his way through the movie. This is like Andrew Dominik's THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES 60 years later. The only difference is Public Enemies shows Dillinger's in full crime flow, JESSE JAMES's time was coming to and end. Both have brilliantly conceived scenes of (SPOILERS***) – the main figures' deaths/assassinations (***END SPOILERS).

    I really don't understand the negativity about this one (I was expecting to come back after the screening I saw to find universal praise), it's a GREAT modern crime flick in my eyes.

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  9. The characters in the film are unengaging and shallow, which means that the extended action scenes come across as Michael Mann just wanting to show off his style, while audiences everywhere could give a shit. What is Dillingers character? He robs banks and likes to fuck? The consumate american male? Such a boring man, way too boring to get an entire film. I mean Dillinger in this film should OWN every scene he is in, on par with The Joker in Batman. But instead he's just boring, never talks about anything interesting, and has nothing to offer.

    The most interesting parts were the historic angle, like the forming of FBI? That's interesting, and if Hoover used Dillinger to get his bureau, that makes him a valid subject in that sense, but of course, we can never go there, because it's all talk and no tommy guns.

    And the action scenes look like fucking EastEnders or The Young and The Restless. It seems Michael Mann has forgotten that the entire decade-old tradition of daytime soaps is shot like he shoots his action scenes, so they are not new and exciting, they are just looking like daytime soaps. More fake than real.

    A couple of cool shots, especially in the beginning though. And the bank robberies were cool.

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  10. "The worst were the Texas lawmen (or Arizonian I guess). They get some huge entrance and then don’t do anything."

    I agree this was ridiculous, Michael Bay-style waste, where it's just about doing something cool (the entrance), even if the film suffers from it. It took an hour for them to show up again! The whole police-angle seems wasted anyway, since they rarely ever show up, and never get to do anything. Christian Bales character is literally just "cop". Again, it all boils down to me not giving a shit about anybody, and I still don't get why this movie was made, other than to get to use modern cameras in a period setting that had tons of action.

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  11. I think Mann was aiming to tell this story in a novel way. I think he is more successful at it not. I really, really liked the way all the other characters are totally tangential to the focus on Dillinger. And I really dug the fact that Dillinger wasn't really a social guy, more pure competence and bluster than showman.

    Part of the appeal of Public Enemies is the uniqueness of how to tell this tale. I see nothing wrong with that, and I'll be curious to see how much richer the film is on second and third viewings, or how this style is appropriated in other films.

    The business and density of stuff reminded me of the Wire, and processing the first few episodes the first time. The deadpan/non-dramatic structure and volume of characters can be overwhelming, yet given enough time, it all becomes highly satisfying.

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  12. I think Johnny Depp in this film is a black hole, I surprisingly agree with both Gamble and Henrik, there is no charisma to this film, no Dillinger to speak of, and I didn't find it novel outside of its choice of digital video to depict a historical period. But the end result for me was a degraded aesthetic and with the exception of a few exciting gun fights, a pretty boring experience all around.

    I don't have time to read all of this thread, will later and maybe I can be convinced otherwise.

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  13. " Unlike the glut of superhero pictures and musical biographies out there, there is no ‘young kid has traumatic experience that shapes his life into what he is’ There is no probing into what or who or how John Dillinger became a world-class bank-robber and robin-hood figure, knocking over banks in one minute forty five seconds. Flat. No, Dillinger just is. He clearly is not much deeper than his own live-in-the-moment impulses. This very fact does not make the move lack humanity or act as a shallow look on a mythic American celebrity, but rather makes this story so contemporary."

    as contemporary as Bonnie & Clyde which this film time and again is cribbing from.

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  14. Totally agree about the supporting characters – loved the way they jab in and out of the film almost on a whim, which makes the "spot the actor" thing all the more fun (although one of my two problems, along with the under-developed Billie Frachette storyline, was that Bale did NOT need to play Purvis – TOTALLY played second fiddle to Depp all the way throigh).

    I really don't see what's wrong with making an entire movie about John Dillinger – he robs banks (and everything else he says), and it's not the first movie to be made about those kinds of people. Shouldn't HEAT have been made? Wasn;t that interesting? I think comparing the way Dillinger should have been portrayed to The Joker in TDK isn't fair – The Joker is a unique case, because of the type of character he was (not to mention Dillinger was a real guy, The Joker is complete fiction). Dillinger was a band robber, and a guy who liks woman, movies and fast cars.

    The uniqueness of Public Enemies is how it doesn't conform to the "normal" way of telling this kind of tale, an unconventional biopic that I think (like Kurt says) will fair VERY well in subsequent viewings. I wouldn't be surprised if this gets looked back on the way HEAT does in about 10-15 years.

    I kind of got The Wire vibe, too. PE is maybe a bit more on the cinematic side, and The Wire is definitely more "put it together yourself," but that's just because that had 5 seasons to play with, Public Enemies has 140 minutes.

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  15. How is this not a normal way of telling the story? How is it unconventional? It's not called "John: The story of Dillinger", it's not a biopic. It's just a movie about uninteresting people, living in an interesting time, shot in a emperors-new-clothes style.

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  16. Funny thing – I keep reading comment after comment rail on about the cinematography. I didn't notice anything out of sorts with the look of the movie, matter of fact I quite liked the look of the movie.

    I did notice one thing, but chalked it up to a bad screening – the sound of this movie is terrible! I chalked it up to the minimum wage staff at the multiplex not hitting the right audio switch, but I'm reading more and more about people who had the same experience in other cities. What possible purpose does a front-heavy, almost-mono mix serve? I was straining to hear half the dialogue!

    That aside, I loved the flick, and totally agree with you Kurt…this is a movie that will have an underwhelming theatrical run, but will age very well in the years to come.

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  17. "totally agree with you Kurt…this is a movie that will have an underwhelming theatrical run, but will age very well in the years to come."

    Well it seems Kurt has decided that any movie he likes is underappreciated when he likes it, but will be appreciated in years to come. It's about the most condescending thing you can say to people, and is based in nothing other than a need to feel superior.

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  18. Yes, the audio was horrible in my screening too! The first half in particular was so quiet I could barely hear what they were saying too.

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    • (Rot you should mention your theater was fucked all around). In regards to the audio, I too was a little perturbed at first as I was having trouble hearing some things. Then I realized it wasn't an audio problem. Whenever it's hard to hear someone it is because they are behind glass (like in the getaway car). If the camera (the audience) is on the outside of the car it's a little hard to hear. Once we move inside the car it sounds fine.

      So at first I was pissed that someone fucked up the soundtrack, then I realized it's like real life and an awesome tactic.

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  19. So at first I was pissed that someone fucked up the soundtrack, then I realized it’s like real life and an awesome tactic.

    Except that isn't always the case of when the sound goes bonkers. The shootouts in particular are horribly edited sound wise, with the guns shifting back and forth between sounding like firecrackers and hand cannons. Their is no method at all, as they simply decide from scene to scene whether or not they want to go for "realism" or want to go for an action film aesthetic.

    Also, just because someone made a stylistic choice that is different, does not mean it is a good one.

    And my vote for preposterous statement of the year, from Twitch:

    If there was one actor wasted in this picture, it was the unrecognizable Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover.

    Jesus Kurt, stop talking. Its clear you've drank the Kool Aid and have absolutely no intention of providing a rational and sane opinion on this film.

    And rot, Andrew was telling me about the lamp problems your screening had. Out of curiosity, was the center of the screen brighter then the edges? Kind of like a dim flashlight?

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    • "Out of curiosity, was the center of the screen brighter then the edges? Kind of like a dim flashlight?"
      I believe that is what he told me. Yes.

      The guns: I specifically watched for the audio fluctuations of the guns. I didn't notice it at all. Sometimes there would be a volume difference, but it was usually because of distance from the camera or type of gun. And even then I didn't think it was quite so jarring.

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  20. The guns: I specifically watched for the audio fluctuations of the guns. I didn’t notice it at all. Sometimes there would be a volume difference, but it was usually because of distance from the camera or type of gun.

    During the big shootout at the lodge any of the close shooting sequences the guns sound like firecrackers (they aren't doing any post-production on the sound at all), but when they have the chase through the woods the guns are clearly edited in explosions. Even more ridiculous, the guns sound completely different throughout most of the rest of the movie, and even most of the visuals were different. Its pretty clear Mann was going for "realism" with those sequences by limiting the lighting and audio, but the problem is those sequences aren't real. They are actors dressed in period style costumes and using props, so when Mann tries and heightens the realism all he is really doing is revealing that it is all purely artificial. It is completely counter productive to his goal, which is a design flaw that permeates throughout the entire film.

    Also, what the hell is up with eliminating the red dress? That's the one detail most people know about Dillinger, yet Mann completely changes it. That just makes no sense, especially when apologists keep trying to hammer home the realism aspect of the film.

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  21. @Henrik "Well it seems Kurt has decided that any movie he likes is under appreciated when he likes it, but will be appreciated in years to come."

    Quite the contrary. But I do believe in this case Mann's pushing the visual and narrative envelope will age well. I'm sure there have been plenty of forward thinking movies that I had issues with, and other movies that I loved that went nowhere. However, since this is the case of taking Video, extreme close-up, long takes, and night photography to a new place, it will likely become more common place as HD and Video and other technologies.

    Come to think of it, if I remember correctly, Do The Right Thing was one of the first films to use a new Kodak film technology that allowed for clearly night-filming. A subtle thing, but something that probably emboldened directors with film. HD Digital photography is only the next logical step. Unlike George Lucas in the prequel trilogy, Michael Mann has always been at the forefront on how to use these new technologies in exciting visual ways. Collateral and Miami Vice are gorgeous, and Public Enemies, while not quite 100% perfect, is definitely pushing the envelope.

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  22. @Matt/Andrew on the gun shot volume and sound design. This was also done in Miami Vice. I'd have to watch the film again focusing on that, but I tend to like the 'pitter-patter' sound design when the guns are far away. I can't vouch for the veracity of the 'distance-to-noise ratio' however without watching the movie specifically for that.

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  23. Has any one read the biography the film was based on?

    (Bryan Burrough’s “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34")

    Is the red dress thing the legend or fact? It's omission or change certainly didn't bother me. I wasn't going into this film with a 'compare-history' bias anyway.

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    • Ebert claims that indeed it was the orange skirt and white blouse. Red dress is a legend.

      And I'm not one of the nay-sayers of the gun noise thing. I didn't notice it really or have any problem with it. Though I admit it is used a lot better in the final showdown in Miami Vice. But Miami Vice is actually a much better film in almost every respect.

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  24. It said in my press kit, that she was wearing a red dress, which she also states in the film, but the various lights and flashes on the night, made it seem to orange to everybody. I tend to be believe this statement, over Matt Gambles personal research.

    Kurt, care to explain exactly how Mann is "pushing the narrative envelope" here?

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  25. “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34″

    See Kurt? This title does not sound at all like a biography to me. A biography that lasts 2 years and is partly about the birth of FBI? I don't understand how the fuck you got into your head that this is somehow a biopic of somebody.

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  26. Also, what the hell is up with eliminating the red dress? That’s the one detail most people know about Dillinger, yet Mann completely changes it. That just makes no sense, especially when apologists keep trying to hammer home the realism aspect of the film.

    I was wondering about that, too.

    I keep reading that she wore an orange skirt on the night Dillinger was killed, but the lighting made it look red. With all the effort Mann put into everything else, it doesn't seem like a difficult effect to reproduce. I think the scene would have been more visually interesting if her dress had appeared red.

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  27. I actually don't have a problem with the idea that it was orange and appeared red or vice versa. If he is trying to correct an incorrect assumption, fine.

    But then why have Dillinger say something when he's dying and turn the ending into a conventional Hollywood love story? He's simply replacing one myth with another.

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  28. "Unlike the glut of superhero pictures and musical biographies out there, there is no ‘young kid has traumatic experience that shapes his life into what he is’"

    The only superhero I know that fits this is Batman. There's other superheroes who have life-shaping experiences or are shown to be kids, but I don't see such a 'glut' and so this reads and just another cheap superhero jab.

    Especially since the 'shaping a young kid' thing – particularly regarding daddy issues – is in no way unique to any genre – its in everything from Talladega Nights to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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  29. @Henrik: "I don’t understand how the fuck you got into your head that this is somehow a biopic of somebody."

    It's from watching the film, Henrik. From watching the movie, Clearly Mann & co decided to focus in on the Dillinger parts of the book and skim other parts. All part of the adaptation process as far as I can understand.

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  30. @Goon, fair enough, Charlie and SNL adaptations were actually on my mind. Maybe the number of batman adapations keyed in the 'comic book hero' with childhood trama.

    Or maybe just another cheap jab at comics.

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  31. Narrative envelope pushing: Long low-lit takes, broken scattered segments. Not amping up with myth, but rather leaving things rather down to earth. Hand held tracking camera work. de-emphasis on 'big speeches or lines' (admittedly the love story angle is more 'traditional Hollywood, but I do mention that above). Maybe none of these individually make a big difference, but the final product here is certainly an unusually structured, filmed and overall executed beast.

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  32. @Andrew James – "Miami Vice is actually a much better film in almost every respect."

    Oh man, TOTALLY disgree :P Miami Vice is EASILY Mann's worst film. Confusing, unfocused, dull, uninteresting, drags its knuckles nearly all the way through. A gorgeous film to look at, indeed, and some of the action is pretty good (I WILL give it that the final shootout scene is fantastic), but I couldn't believe Mann had made such a boring movie with that one. You couldn't tell what was going half the time, who each character was referring to etc – Mann's films are always information heavy and VERY detailed but he, oddly, handled it all wrong in this one (IMO he gets it oh so right in PE). If it weren't for the trademark "moonlight" look to it, I'd have thought it was Mann impersonator/wannabe who made it.

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    • Knuckle dragging? The scenes of intensity are a lot more… well, intense in Miami Vice. The orignal meet-up between Crocket and Tubbs with the South Americans, the hostage scene with Naomi Harris and the final gun showdown is WAY better and more coherent than the forest shoot-out at the lodge.

      The characters were much more interesting in MV – especially the love story aspect. You're able to focus on just three or four people throughout the movie instead of 15 or 20 barely recognizable people who everytime they show up onscreen you either think, "Who is that guy again?" or "oh (s)he's in this!?"

      In terms of visuals, I think that the inconsistencies in PE detracts a lot from the movie while MV stays pretty focused.

      I really liked PE, but the more I'm thinking about it and reading what others have to say, the less I'm liking it. I need a second viewing soon to solidify my feelings on the movie.

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  33. Myabe kuckle dragging isn't the best way to describe it – it kind of plods along because of the confusing nature of it. For me I got to the point where I couldn't figure out and, ultimately didn't care, who the bad guys were, who they were talking about, why Crockett and Tubbs were after them etc etc. The way it drops you into a club scene at the beginning (that came off like a poor-man's, incoherent version of the one from Collateral) was just the starter pistol for the "what the hell's actually going on?!" vibe to come.

    I don't think the gun showdown NEEDED to be coherent in PE, it reflects the tangential nature of the whole movie. Whereas Miami Vice BEGS to be focused and coherent – I didn't find that in ANY WAY with it.

    I thought rhe flashy, stylized look of MV detracts from it, whereas with PE I thought it added to the whole thing tremendously (wow, we're really opposite on this one – everything you've described about PE is what I found with MV and didn't find with PE:P).

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    • Definitely watch MV again. I remember being luke warm on it at first, but I really REALLY like that movie a lot now. It's not really all that confusing if you pay attention. And by the way, I love that villain. He's the same actor that's in PE (the Spanish guy with the mustache who runs "all the phones").

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  34. I have watched MV about two or three times. I actually liked it more the first time I saw it, just because of the action scenes. But upon rewatching it the problems (that I found, at least) became REALLY apparent. I don't mean confusing as in "I just couldnt understand what's going on" but rather "the heavy load of information isn't handled right." There's aboslutely nothing wrong with information being on the heavy side (just look at the masterful Zodiac as an example of how it can work tremendously in a movie's favour), but I felt Mann went about everything in all the wrong ways with MV.

    And I can barely remember the villain – just shows you how effective, intimidating and memorable he was :)

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  35. "Clearly Mann & co decided to focus in on the Dillinger parts of the book and skim other parts."

    Again, I can only ask, how does this make it a biopic?

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  36. Just thought I'd weigh in:

    From Filmsite.org – " 'Biopics' is a term derived from the combination of the words "biography" and "pictures." These films depict and dramatize the life of an important historical personage (or group) from the past or present era. Sometimes, historical biopics stretch the truth and tell a life story with varying degrees of accuracy."

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  37. But how is this a biography? It's not Dillingers life story, he's barely even a character, more like a phenomenon personified. It takes place over a short time, mainly focusing on his ability to maintain a relationship, again, how is this in any way a biography of this mans life? Forrest Gump is a biopic. This is not.

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  38. So a biopic always has to tell the tale from birth/childhood all they way up to their death? Do you not think The Assassination of Jesse James, for example, is a biopic of both Jesse and Robert Ford, as well as it being about the assassination itself? Public Enemies is a biography/biopic of John Dillinger, but not ONLY that. It doesn't just have to be that one thing, and nothing else. (And Forrest Gump is fiction, even if it tells the life tale of a man's life).

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  39. I think at this point, Henrik is more about 'talking shit' and nitpicking than getting to the bottom of anything. I could be wrong on this, but an argument about 'semtantic classification' can get exhausting and overly trivial rather quickly. I stand by what and how I wrote it above. I consider it a Bio-Pic, as well as a period picture, an experimental art-blockbuster and a love story of sorts. One film can be many things.

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    • Of course it's a biopic. It focuses on a real life person and pretty much only that person. Just because it doesn't talk about Dillinger as a teenager does not remove it from the biopic subgenre.

      And I think what Kurt is doing with this particular biopic is contrasting it (not comparing it) against all of the typical stuff like "Ray" or "Walk the Line" or "Spider-Man." If you want more of the same bullshit that's been done in countless other films, that's totally fine. I think Mann's decision to just focus on the awesome parts of the subject's life still classify it as a biopic – and as Kurt said, in an unconventional way. The world needs more unconventionalism IMO.

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  40. It's not just semantics, because your whole "pushing the envelope" argument is based on comparing it to stuff like Ray. Which I don't think is at all a valid comparison, if Dillinger had not been a real person, you would never have made it.

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  41. In this age of the meaningless and glossy blockbuster, the uncomfortable cinematography and its ‘audience unfriendly’ structure is a major strength in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

    Fixed.

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  42. Well Kurt, it just goes to show that it doesn't mean anything. I might as well argue that Raiders of the Lost Ark is an unconventional biopic. Is JFK a biopic? Is The Untouchables? Do you see what I mean?

    Public Enemies is an unconventional horror movie as well as a biopic. What it is, is an action movie. As such, it's not very unconventional, except in style, which isn't that mindblowing.

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  43. I can see where you are coming from, Henrik, although I still disagree. The film is ABOUT John Dillinger, everything else in the narative is tangential. The film aims (in an unconventional fashion) to pick at his life, death, and the era he helped shape. It aims to refract the era through the man. In this case, the man is a pretty simple man of simple pleasures, I don't find that to be a fault.

    In loose form, this is not that far from Walk The Line or The Aviator or Tucker: A Man and His Dream. Just using hand-held video cam in the moment film techniques. On the other hand, I've never quite seen a 'here is the man' type picture look, feel or play like this one. Hence "Unconventional."

    Depalma's Untouchables is more of a collection of characters. It neither focuses it energies on Ness, Capone or the fellah that Sean Connery plays.

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  44. What does haughty mean?

    I don't do it because I hate you if that helps.

    Public Enemies might be a biopic in the style of Ed Wood. Surprised this didn't occur to you. It's not called "John Dillinger" though, even though, maybe it should be, since I don't understand the plural in the title.

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  45. I must admit, the title is a bit baffling. Might be that they they took it directly from the book while adapting it, and never bothered to change it when the focus became 'Public Enemy'.

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  46. Well unlike Miami Vice I actually made it through Public Enemies' entirety, but it was tough to sit through. No, not the techniques.. the story is just boring, and none of the performances save Cotillard are worth any notice whatsoever.

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