July 10, 2009

Depp vs. Bale

Public Enemies stars Johnny "Sexy Beast" Depp as John Dillinger, Marion Cotillard as his love interest Billie Frechette, and Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis who leads the hunt for the infamous bank robber. Directed by Michael Mann, it is refreshing to see a movie that's straight-up gunfights, chases on foot, and car chases without the CGI/special effects moviemakers rely on these days. For viewers like me who have heard of John Dillinger but never knew details of his life, the film is a fascinating look at gangster culture without the extreme violence we've come to expect from mobster films. It made me want to rush home, search for his biography online and find out if the movie is historically accurate. (I did read later on that the screenplay was based on Bryan Burrough's book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34.)

It also gives us a peek at the beginnings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, headed by J. Edgar Hoover (played by Billy Crudup), apparently largely viewed at the time as inept. It was interesting to see the merciless techniques the agents used, and how they might be disallowed today. (Or maybe they are still in use, who knows?) The Bureau's tactics do seem like they should necessitate an Internal Affairs investigation, if there is such a thing for the agency.

Without knowing much about the leading crooks and gangsters of that era ( I only knew of Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson) , it did get a bit confusing as to who's who and who's pulling off a heist, who's being arrested and who got killed. It is a stylish, action-packed film, but strangely and quietly morose. While the two leads don't quite match the explosive chemistry that De Niro and Pacino have, it probably means something that I was pulling for Purvis to catch Dillinger, and at the same time hoping our hero-villain somehow gets a reprieve. Or maybe that's only because it's Johnny Depp.


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