Mann, Depp at the top of their game in “Public Enemies”

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Rated R : 2 hours 20 minutes : Universal Pictures

There seems to be an odd little trend set in place over the last ten years when it comes to Michael Mann-directed films. Since the acclaimed filmmaker released The Insider in 1999 (which I consider his career-crowning masterpiece) his body of work has generated terrific pieces of work between slight disappointments. After that under-appreciated film ten years ago, he went on to deliver the ambitious but ultimately less than stellar biopic, Ali, with Will Smith’s outstanding performance getting diluted by a confused approach at storytelling. In 2004 he would quickly return to fine form with Collateral, which featured two brilliant performances by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, the latter of whom took a dramatic challenge and ran with it. The success that Foxx has had with focused performances since that time can be directly attributed to Mann giving him the chance to make a statement as the taxi driver in Collateral. Mann immediately brought Foxx back to work with him, and alongside Colin Farrell, with the film update of Miami Vice. That one ended up being a mild entertainment but just not up to par for a director of such caliber. So you could say that with the standards Mann has set in his long career, the last decade has been literally every other film hit-and-miss, with the hits being very high and the misses only slightly missing and not bad enough to call awful.

In keeping with the coincidental trend that began in 1999, Mann has once again found a groove with his newest film, Public Enemies, where we find a perfectly cast Johnny Depp as famed bankrobber, John Dillinger. Mann’s trademark style of shifting between digital and film is put to at a major amount in this film and it proves to be a perfect aid to the pace of a story that calls for swift movement. Dillinger was the first nationally wanted criminal of his kind, bankrobbing consuming the majority of his time, so the choice to include a hefty amount of that in the movie was smart and really essential. Life is short: you rob banks and then you die. That was sadly the story of Dillinger’s existence, but in Public Enemies we also get inside some of the more personal and loyal aspects of the intriguing and legendary figure. Other main focuses in the film belong to the woman in his life, Billie, (Marion Cotillard) and the badge on his tail, Melvin Purvis, played by Christian Bale in a calm, understated performance. Cotillard follows her incredible, award-winning performance in La Vie En Rose with her first breakout chance in American cinema, and she pulls the role off with ease alongside the commanding Depp. Purvis is put in charge of the Dillinger team by the orders of J. Edgar Hoover, who is played by Billy Crudup in another underrated performance by one of our more overlooked actors. Like in all of Mann’s films – and especially recent ones – there is a long list of noticeable actors that appear for very minor roles throughout the film, and in Public Enemies we get to see Giovanni Ribisi, Leelee Sobieski, Channing Tatum, Shawn Hatosy, Stephen Lang, Matt Craven, and Lili Taylor all fit in an ensemble that goes on forever. The finest of the supporting cast outside of the three main characters has got to be Jason Clarke and Dillinger’s true right-hand-man, Red. Clarke is so excellent in this role and really handles himself well in a film full of experienced veterans of their craft, creating a valiant and memorable performance that resonated with me long after the film ended.

There is a lot to praise about this film, which is every bit as good as the awesome Collateral and arguably his best film since The Insider, and the majority of the reason it works as an entertainment and a character study is simply the complete and dedicated immersion by Depp in the lead role. Over the last several years the unbelievably talented actor has been consumed by Tim Burton’s demented Hollywood blockbusters, which there is nothing wrong with except the fact that it occupies Depp so much that he hasn’t had the chance to play actual human characters like Dillinger, which he can pull off better than all of the top legends in the history of cinema. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to see him back in a role like this, bringing back fond memories of powerful performances in films like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Donnie Brasco, and Blow. I’ve since revisited Public Enemies two more times and I think that this is the very best ‘ve seen Depp to this point in his already terrific career, stepping into Dillinger with a stern intimidation and creating the best performance of the year to this point. Mann has made a rousing piece of entertainment and a near-perfect film on every level. I hope you had the chance to see this one the silver screen.

star_ratings_image3 and a half

Cast
Johnny Depp
Christian Bale
Marion Cotillard
Jason Clarke
Billy Crudup
Stephen Lang
Stephen Dorff
Based on the book by
Bryan Burrough
Screenplay adapted by
Ronan Bennett
Michael Mann
Ann Biderman
Directed by
Michael Mann

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2 Responses to “Mann, Depp at the top of their game in “Public Enemies””

  1. Adam Says:

    I agree, Jason Clarke certainly stole the show as Red. He was absolutely outstanding in the faithful until the end sidekick.

  2. Ferguson Says:

    Yeah I hope he gets some deserved recognition.

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