Public Enemies: Worth Looking At, Not Worth Watching

Based on the true story of a notorious depression-era bank robber, Public Enemies brings the crime spree and police hunt of John Dillinger to the silver screen. In a film that desperately attempts to provoke any emotion, Public Enemies fails to capture the imagination, create emotional dimension or shock the senses.

In 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his crew crisscrossed the country, robbing banks and became folk heroes. During an evening out, hiding in plain sight, Dillinger meets the beautiful Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and immediately dedicates himself to her, and she to him. The agent in charge of the Bureau of Investigation into Dillinger, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) doggedly chases the gang cross-country, but his bumbling agents become more inept as the chase drags on.

Chase after chase, shoot out after shoot out, arrest after arrest, action is the plot in Public Enemies. The same action-driven events repeat copiously and the redundancy lacks irony, tragedy, or serendipity. It just cycles endlessly between poorly choreographed gun fights, car chases and police failures. Consequently, Public Enemies left me feeling like I had a drawn out case of déjà-vu.

There was little time between the action for verbal interaction between characters and what writing there is is shallow and does not deepen the connection between characters. The relationship between Billie and John is shallow and unconvincing. Depp and Cotillard don’t have the sizzling chemistry required to make their love-at-first-sight believable and the writers, Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann and Ann Biderman didn’t put any meat on the relationship’s bones. Billie and John’s relationship is a template for the rest of the relationships in the film. The most useful verbal communication is the old fashioned news radio broadcasts used as cheap narrative tool.

Just like Dillinger, characters like Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham), Melvin Purvis , John ‘Red’ Hamilton (Jason Clarke), Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff) and Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) are introduced, but they are given so little time to develop, they are nothing more than Tommy Guns with different faces attached. The writers might as well have left the supporting characters unnamed. The writers gave more specific details about the cars than they did the characters based on real people.

There was a beautiful attention to detail when it comes to the architecture, fashion and automobiles in Public Enemies. As a girl, I learned how to restore cars of this era and my family was a member of a car club, so I grew up around antique cars. I know what it takes to make the cars of this time to be as perfectly restored as the 1920’s and 1930’s cars in Public Enemies. The attention to details by the people who lovingly restored the cars, instead of turning them into a penis enhancing hot rod, needs to be commended. They are rolling pieces of American history during the Desoto, Dodge Brothers, rumble seats and three window coups period.

The most brilliant character has got to be the architecture. The banks featured in the film glisten like a young starlet in her prime. Gold banisters shine amongst marvelously detailed molding and marble counters. The prison in the opening scene is imposing, stark and fascinating.

In fact, if Public Enemies could be reviewed on visuals alone, it might have won my heart. Creative use of camera angles, lighting, and scenery make the audience feel a sense of awe. The shaky camera work can make the audience nauseous, but in many scenes, it adds an overall sense of chaos.

Public Enemies is as beautiful as a Playboy centerfold and as substantive as a Hustler article. It is only worth looking at, not worth watching.

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Comment by AcesLucky on July 7, 2009 at 6:51am
I remembered when they were in a car and the driver was asked "how far" he replied something like "four point two miles" and I went "Huh?" They didn't use decimal miles back then. So I guess we really are all critics. :-)
Comment by AcesLucky on July 4, 2009 at 10:55pm
I was just teasing about the insane thing.

I know. There was no offense taken. In fact, it made me smile. I thought it was an invitation.
Comment by LaRae Meadows on July 4, 2009 at 6:03pm
PS. I was just teasing about the insane thing. I'm sorry if I hurt your feeling. I should have been an LOL after that comment.
Comment by LaRae Meadows on July 4, 2009 at 6:02pm
All I ask of an action movie is entertainment, a good plot and fun. Public Enemies didn't ahve a good plot, it wasn't entertaining and was no fun. I can't be swayed by flashy photography or big named actors.

I don't think of any movie in the grand scope of movies. Just in their own genre. I have what I call, a dog show perspective. I don't judge a golden retriever (romantic comedy) as I would an english bull dog (an action movie.)

It isn't about what most reviewers (which I am) or critics believe. It is about finding a reviewer or critic that you mostly agree with or mostly disagree with. Then you will have a good measure for what to see. We don't all agree. It isn't like we have a conference to figure out what is right or wrong. We constantly disagree. You might like a particular reviewer.

I think it's silly to say I wasn't watching the movie. I did see that he gave the money back but it was meaningless without more explaination as to why. I'm not in the business of reading meaning into scenes. If they wanted him to be a robin hood, they needed to make him into one. He really didn't fit that mold.

It's ok to disagree about a movie, I'm glad you felt passionate enough to write me. I hope you do again.
Comment by AcesLucky on July 4, 2009 at 12:15pm
Of course I'm insane. After all, I liked your review, too!

"The banks ... glisten like a young starlet in her prime." Wonderfully stated!

... though not quite the simile I had in mind when watching, but it's poetic and beautiful. Just like the young starlet playing opposite Johnny Depp. But then, he was portrayed as more of a romantic than a gangster. Which, to me, seemed to fit the very visuals you do credit. Perfectly and harmoniously.

But I guess it depends on what you expect. I'm no critic and didn't go for that purpose. I went for the enjoyment of the entertainment, and was totally satisfied. And so was the wife. Was there supposed to be another reason?

If you had to judge on that (entertainment value) alone, would you have given another review? The reason I ask is not because you might be wrong (there is no wrong opinion on judging art). But because most of the people I know look to see what the critics say, as a basis for deciding to see a movie. More specifically...

If the critics don't like it... that's how we know its worth watching, excuse me, seeing. And if they do like it, it's guaranteed to be too damn boring.

We go to the movies for the many flavors of enjoyment it gives us, not so much the plate on which it's served. The bank could have been dirty and dingy, and it wouldn't have changed anything that happened inside the bank. (He robbed the bank's money, but not the depositors'. No glitz or grime changed the meaning of that.) While you were seeing the shine, we were watching the movie.
Comment by LaRae Meadows on July 3, 2009 at 5:03pm
I'm glad you liked it. You are obviously insane but hey, even the insane need entertainment.
Comment by AcesLucky on July 3, 2009 at 3:24pm
I liked it. Best $7 bucks I spent this week.



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