by Hank Yuloff
bang bang kapow kapow
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Walking into the theater, all I knew about Public Enemies was that it had to do with gangsters in the 1930’s and starred Johnny Depp. I wasn’t in “Gotta See It” mode, but since it had a holiday weekend opening in the summer, it was probably going to be pretty good.
Yep. It was.
The movie is not covering new ground. There have been half a dozen movies about the life of John Dillinger. A bunch more about the “G-Man” in charge of tracking him down - Melvin Purvis. This film does a very good job of capturing the story from both the point of view of the gangsters and the still young FBI, who were being made to look bad because of the gangsters popularity of with the public. In fact, seeing the ability of many of the FBIs Most Wanted able to go out in public places with impunity has always fascinated me. Even when they were in movie theaters with their photos on the big screen and the lights on, no one seemed to truly notice them.
Being a fan of the genre, I have seen most of them and it is amazing what better effects can do for a story but in the end it is always the acting that pulls it off or wipes it out faster than a Thompson automatic. Thankfully Depp and the rest of the cast were terrific. I also didn’t know that Christian “Terminator Potty Mouth” Bale was going to play Purvis, the G-Man charged with bringing Dillinger to justice. Dead or … Dead. Bale was as cold and calculating as the men he tracked down. He didn’t go for the flamboyance other actors have used, and his doggedness was refreshing. With Depp, it was interesting to see him not have to rely on make up to use in his acting (Jack Sparrow, Willie Wonka, Sweeney Todd) and able to just use his uncovered face to express his thoughts. Very refreshing.
Michael Mann directed the film. I am a big fan of many of his other films - he produced The Kingdom, directed Collateral and Ali - and though I didn’t like Enemies as much as those films, the rapid pace kept me interested through most of the 140 minute run time. There is one especially interesting scene, that my guess is complete fiction though it goes along with my comments above, where Dillinger walks through a law enforcement office dedicated to his capture and is not noticed, nor challenged by the officers in the room. Mann uses this scene as a wrap up for Dillinger where he is greeted by the photos of his past associated - most of whom have the stamp DECEASED across them.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the taking of Dillinger (and Bonnie and Clyde, and Pretty Boy Floyd). Walking out of the theater after the performance, I did find myself looking around, because you never know when your past will catch up to you.
Hank Yuloff is a writer in Los Angeles.
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