Public Enemies if off the mark

Director Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Last of the Mohican) is considered to be a perfectionist.

Public Enemies (15) Director Michael Mann Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Stephen Lang, Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff 143 mins


Director Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Last of the Mohican) is considered to be a perfectionist. Or at least the Hollywood definition of perfectionist - a man who can craft an elegant and beautifully designed arrow pointing in the direction of nothing in particular.

It is the story of John Dillinger (Depp) and all the other bank robbers and hoodlums of the Great Depression, and how they were hunted down one by one by FBI G-Men led by Melvin Purvis (Bale). After seeing the film, I still have no idea what piqued Mann's interest in the subject but I'll bet it isn't what would pique your interest in a tale of 1930s mobsters.

The film is like a tastefully adorned train that passes in front of your eyes at a steady but not frenetic pace for more than two hours and 20 minutes. The only tension is wondering if it is ever going to stop and allow you to get on board.

Many reviewers will describe it as a fantastically well made film and on one level it is. Individually most of the scenes are ok but collectively they don't amount to anything. A bunch of stuff happens but none of it has been given any thematic or narrative shape so I wasn't much bothered either way.

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There's a great cast, most of whom turn up for no more than a scene or two, and sometimes you can't even hear what they are saying. (Spoiler, there's a great irony towards the end where the man who actually shoots Dillinger bends over to listen to his dying word but says that he couldn't hear them - I doubt I made out more than 50 per cent of what Depp said all film.)

Depp is really the only person to get any sustained attention and he makes a charismatic, if restrained, Dillinger. Bale is a natural flatfoot and his Purvis is another of his essays in plodding, joyless righteousness.

Mann again shoots with lightweight High Definition (often handheld) digital cameras. They made his previous film Miami Vice look like a glorified episode of Badgerwatch, but it isn't as obtrusive here.

The standout scene is a night time shoot out where the rat-a-tat-tat of the Tommy Guns is deafening, spent bullet casings fly towards the camera and the colour of the flames bursting out of the barrels is unlike anything you've ever seen, yet somehow

it still looks so cheap and grimy that it could be a hoodlum's video diary.

And that's where perfectionism leads - you discover a new shade of gunfire.