Wednesday, July 01, 2009

TRH Movie - Public Enemies

There's always one big movie, like that one big book, that I get almost too excited about. We could make the obvious, cliched observation that I'm like a kid at Christmas -- big stars, great supporting cast, interesting story, something really worth going to see on opening day. This should be my first clue -- nothing ever lives up to the hype, and I always find myself a little defeated after closing the covers or exiting the theatre (see The Little Stranger). Today I half-made my RRHB go see Johnny Depp in Public Enemies. I mean, on the surface, it had everything that a great summer blockbuster should have, and still, after leaving the Queensway two and a half hours after we sat down, I'd have to say the best thing about the whole film was seeing the super-cute trailer for Julie and Julia.

Wait, I'm exaggerating.

But only a little.

Michael Mann seems to have fallen in love with the whole "modern" (or would we say "post-modern"?) style of film making so influenced by the Bourne series. Quick cuts, extreme close ups, hand-held camera shots, all meant to employ a frenetic sense of action on screen. Yet, I think he's so intent upon capturing the moment in fragments that he actually sort of lost the movie. There's little plot and what there is remains terribly contrived (bank robber gets caught; escapes; robs; gets caught, etc) throughout.

The film lacks the nuance of Bonnie and Clyde, the intelligence of The Usual Suspects, and especially the engaging, epic nature of a great film like The Untouchables. There's flash, there's gunfire, there's a pretty girl and a handsome man, but the most interesting aspects of the story, the evolution of the FBI, the cat and mouse chase between the agents and the criminals, all sort of get lost in the muddled cut and paste of yet another shot of someone's fingernails.

The actors don't do much because you can barely see them. And when you do, the dialogue is so stilted and awkward, and let's face it, bad, that the story doesn't seem to advance in any kind of rational way. The film's all about hard punches when it should be about the dance -- and I have to say I lost interest well before we even hit the second act. There were things that I liked, like I said, the film could not have attracted a better cast (the performances are solid); and there's just something about a gangster picture that gets your blood pumping. The excitement of knowing that eventually something's going to go terribly wrong and films are always more interesting when things go awry than when they move slowly toward a conclusion.

But capturing your attention and holding it are two different things, and Mann simply can't move beyond the style to create something substantial. Strike one for my excitement today. Now I'm just waiting for Where the Wild Things Are to let me down. It won't right? There's still hope for Max.

EDITED TO ADD: WOW, I can't believe I left this post sit for two days and didn't spell check. Ack.

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