Sunday, July 5, 2009
Public Enemies the new Michael Mann film, focuses on John Dillinger and his brief but memorable stint as the FBI’s Most Wanted poster boy. Shot in meticulously preserved historic buildings, it’s a what’s what for Chicagoans: the Board of Trade Building, the Biograph Theater, the Aragon Ballroom, the apartments precariously close to the El train—yep, all there. It’s not the first time a gangster movie has been filmed in the city, (who can forget The Untouchables, the tepid tale of Eliot Ness waging war on Al Capone?) the LaSalle street corridor as a backdrop to those well tailored, Tommy-gun toting men just works.
Johnny Depp stars as John Dillinger, Christian Bale as the dogged FBI agent Melvin Purvis and Billy Crudup as Bureau head J. Edgar Hoover (is it just me, or do these actors look like brothers?) The film centers on Dillinger as he achieves celebrity status for robbing banks and living the good life. If the writers explored the rallying that must have taken place before entering a bank for a robbery, the isolation of living on the run, or the panic of being recognized or shot at in public, it may have inspired complex performances (think of Arthur Penn’s excellent film Bonnie and Clyde, which paints a sympathetic portrait of those criminals). Instead, the characters seem to exist solely in a cycle of robbery, pursuit and escape. Despite a stellar cast, including Lili Taylor and Giovanni Ribisi who we don’t see often enough, the performances are flat and cold. If we only see the public cheering for Dillinger, the title of the movie is all wrong-- maybe Cops and Robbers would be better.