Saturday, June 20, 2009

Public Enemies...

I got lucky enough to test screen Michael Mann's latest film, Public Enemies, a few months ago. It's going to be released in a couple weeks, and I am curious about how much, if at all, the film has changed. Obviously the special effects, score, color correction, etc. have been polished, but there are some key story and editing elements I am hoping have been touched up as well. I'll just write down (kind of popcorn style) what I liked and didn't like about the film as the points come to me and we'll see how it matches up to the film in a few weeks.

- Johnny Depp. He's a fantastic and versatile actor. He is brilliant in this film as expected. 'nuff said. Verdict: Good

- Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). He was good, I guess. Didn't really see much of him in this. I don't understand why he took such a minor role. Or I guess I don't understand why his role is so minor. His character is introduced with a bang, but is one of the flattest characters imaginable. He makes inconsistent, unexplained choices and seems to just be in the movie as the necessary antagonist, but the character is too weak to even fulfill that role. Not really Bale's fault, but a shame all the same, since it doesn't appear fixable at this point (April, I think) in the production process. Verdict: Bad

- No 35mm? Shooting in digital (the CineAlta F23 to be precise) rather than the conventional 35mm was an odd choice by Mann, especially since it was very easy to tell. To be fair, the movie wasn't finished yet, and it may be touched up in post to give it a more filmic look. But still, my roommate Josh made a great point that a period piece like this should be shot in 35mm to being with. When nearly all the drawbacks of digital cameras are something a film like this should be trying to avoid, why even bother trying fix it in post? Shoot it right the first time and make it look like an actual film. Verdict: Bad (disclaimer: possibly fixed in post)

- The Cabin Scene. A prolonged shootout in a secluded cabin is overlong and confusing. I don't want to drop any spoilers, so I'll just say that hopefully it was cut down by 10 minutes and also cut differently so one can actually make sense of how the scene ends. Verdict: Bad (disclaimer: possibly fixed in post)

- The Climax. Gripping. Can't spoil it, but it is one of the strongest parts of the film, in my opinion. Verdict: Good

- Story. Another very disappointing aspect of the film. It could have been so much more than the glorification of a malicious criminal who scoffs in the face of justice and the law, but it's not. To make it even worse, Mann bashes that message down your throat with a few title cards at the end of the film that make it clear that Dillinger (Depp's character) is supposed to be the hero, while Purvis (Bale) and the rest of the cast who pursued justice are the real villains. And what does Public Enemies mean anyway? That public servants and enforcers of the law are the real enemies, not the crooks who rob and kill for selfish gain and pleasure? Verdict: Bad

I probably made the film appear worse than it may be, but I was really disappointed in what could have been an insightful and thought-provoking film. Instead it is pure Hollywood. A lot of exciting action sequences and gunfights (Mann is clearly adept at these), but lacking in the character and plot department. Hopefully some of these problems have been addressed since I last saw it, but even my superficial understanding of how films are made tells me that isn't likely.
Premature Dan-o-Meter: 5 out of 10