Sunday, August 16, 2009

Public Enemies

Exhibiting the Prowess of Digital Film-making
By Reymundo Salao

PUBLIC ENEMIES is about John Dillinger, one of the most wanted bank robbing criminals in the United States during the 1930s. It is set during the height of his notoriety as an outlaw, was considered one of the top public enemies at the time, and how he is being pursued by the law enforcers, specifically by Melvin Purvis, who was assigned to head a task force in order to hunt down Dillinger.

Let me just start off that Public Enemies is a ballistic-scorching hot action flick. I was really expecting this to be a bit boring since this is based on real events, but it really does give you a big bang of an action ride, and before you realize it, two hours and a half had already passed.

The movie is directed by Michael Mann who is one of the best action directors, and is responsible for movies like Heat, Miami Vice (he created the series & directed the movie), and Collateral. As in many of Michael Mann's films, there is a minimum amount of needless cinematic style. He usually employs high definition digital cameras, often giving the movie a very realistic feel. High-def digital sometimes come off as video sometimes, and creates scenes that look like they're off of a documentary. This is unusual for period pieces. When we watch American gangster movies set in 1930's, they are usually presented with some artistic visual filter. From the film noir grainy look, up to the over-attractive visual styles used in films such as Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. If you add the overdone cinematic style with the distinct look and culture of the 1930’s, it does make the era too beautifully cinematic, but you could not relate to it because it feels like its another world, it feels like you’re watching a movie set in the 1930’s.

Shooting his film in digital HD is bold in the sense that this has never been done before and I am really impressed by this approach because it gives the period of the 1930’s more life and it becomes relatable. When you watch the movie, it feels like you actually belong to that time period, it makes you feel and accept the environment that it creates. You’re not just watching the 1930’s; you ARE in the 1930’s.

The HD quality is also best appreciated in the gunfight scenes. When those tommy guns and submachine guns go off onscreen, it engulfs the whole theater, the loud crack bang crash that is just noisy enough for it to be sweet sweet music to action movie fanatics like me. Chaos that is pure joy. I advise you to watch this in the movie theater in order to get what I feel. It really is a shame if you watch it just in video, or from a bad pirated copy because you would have missed out on the overall bang effect of the movie. And the chase scenes are beautiful. There is an evening forest scene whish is just full of tension and where one of the cleverly rare stylish angles were used, specifically in a scene where Dillinger is chased by one of Purvis’ best agents.

The movie has a stellar cast. On top of the list are, of course, Johnny Depp as Dillinger, Marion Cotillard as Billie (Dillinger’s love interest), and Christian Bale as Purvis. No question those three are superb. The film also includes Stephen Dorff, Rory Cochrane, Giovanni Ribisi, Leelee Sobieski, Stephen Graham, and Billy Crudup all in secondary or minor roles. Even jazz mistress Diana Krall has a scene in the movie where she sings in a club. To all you giddy fan-girls, Channing Tatum is also in this movie, which I consider his best role as an actor because we see him for half a minute running scared, gets shot by Christian Bale, falls down on a bloody wound, chokes, and dies. Icing to the cake.

The movie is not historically accurate. In case you’re not familiar with Dillinger’s story, it would be wise for you to research about Dillinger. You will find that the movie clearly made drastic alterations in order to make the movie more cinematic. I am usually against this idea, but Mann has made a movie impressive enough to make me forget such protest. It is also clear that this movie gives Dillinger the heroic protagonist side, to the point that you never see him do anything negative, even the scenes where he robs banks come off as a sort of Robin Hood act. In addition to that is the love story between Dillinger and Billie Frechette, which defines Dillinger’s character as having a strong romantic side.

Overall, the film is a ballistically great gangster movie. It is more entertaining (not necessarily better) than Heat & Collateral. It has great acting, great action, and great effects. PUBLIC ENEMIES is probably THE action movie of the year.

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