WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Based on the eponymous book by Bryan Burrough Public Enemies chronicles the exploits of legendary Chicago gangster John Dillinger a dashing figure whose daring bank robberies both captivated and alarmed a Depression-era America devastated by widespread financial ruin. Director Michael Mann (Ali The Insider) begins his narrative at Dillinger’s career high-point with the Indiana-born outlaw basking in his celebrity status as a Robin Hood figure.
But with Dillinger’s growing fame comes increased scrutiny from law enforcement agencies — particularly the Bureau of Investigation (the precursor to the FBI) and its ambitious chief J. Edgar Hoover. Eyeing Dillinger’s capture as an opportunity to boost his agency’s profile Hoover tasks elite agent Melvin Purvis with bringing the elusive gangster to justice.
WHO’S IN IT?
Toning down the often cartoonish mannerisms he exhibited in Sweeney Todd Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy Johnny Depp exudes low-key charm and self-assuredness as Dillinger a man clearly amused by his celebrity status but never consumed by it. Dillinger’s audacity and fearlessness extend beyond the criminal realm too as evidenced when he pursues a beguiling coat-check girl named Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard). Initially appalled by Dillinger’s aggressive advances Frechette ultimately surrenders becoming his loyal companion during his final days on the run.
As lawman Melvin Purvis Dillinger’s primary antagonist Christian Bale provides a nice foil for Depp though he ultimately isn’t allowed enough screen time to fully develop his character. Bale’s Purvis is straight-laced intrepid and doggedly persistent his efforts continually stymied by the sub-par talent and resources at his disposal. His complicated relationship with highly eccentric Bureau boss Hoover (played by a gleefully uptight Billy Crudup) begs for more development but director Mann opts instead to focus more on the doomed love affair between Dillinger and Frechette. Pity.
Fans of Mann’s action work in films like Miami Vice and Heat will revel in Public Enemies’ elaborately staged shoot-out sequences each of which is lent added intensity by cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s use of high-definition digital video cameras.
But when the bullets aren’t flying Public Enemies is only intermittently interesting. Stars Depp and Bale both excel in their respective roles but neither is allowed much room to venture beyond the tight constraints imposed by Mann who clings stubbornly — and disappointingly — to type. Much more intriguing would have been for Mann to reverse the casting with Bale playing the anti-hero and Depp as his straight-arrow pursuer. Alas the director who convinced squeeky-clean Tom Cruise to play a villain (in 2004’s Collateral) was not so ballsy this time around.
The same cautious predictable approach to casting extends to the film’s tone as well. Rather than deconstruct our culture’s romanticized vision of Dillinger as a handsome populist hero Mann adds to the gangster’s puffed-up Robin Hood image photographing Depp lovingly at every turn and filling the story with unsubtle nods to the character’s altruistic side. It’s a missed opportunity.
Mann has never been one for brevity regularly churning out films that extend well beyond two hours in length. Public Enemies is no exception clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours. Despite the ample running time he’s allotted to flesh out his story Mann fails to create any real attachment to his characters. For a movie with such a gifted cast appealing subject matter and riveting action sequences Public Enemies is oddly boring.
A chaotic nighttime sequence in which Purvis and his crew ambush Dillinger’s forest hideout only to become mired in a protracted and bloody gunfight ranks with the very best of Mann’s action work. If only the rest of Public Enemies were this thrilling.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Spinotii’s superb camera work demands to be seen on the big screen so slam a few Red Bulls and catch this one at the multiplex.
Look in the sky. It’s a plane. It’s a bird. It’s a frog. No it’s just little old Underdog or as his young master so aptly calls him “Superman with a flea collar.” In Disney’s live-action version of the 1960s animated superhero parody the canine crimebuster (voiced by Jason Lee) returns to nip at the heels of arch nemesis Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage). Unlike the cartoon Underdog who took on human characteristics this pooch keeps all four paws on the ground Except of course when he’s zooming off to save the day. And it’s all thanks to the mad scientist Barsinister that Shoeshine—Underdog’s secret identity—runs as fast as a cheetah and flies like an eagle. Shoeshine turns into the Mutt of Steel after coming into contact with a serum created by Barsinister. His transformation from zero to superhero leaves Barsinister desperate to replicate the results of this lab accident for typically evil purposes. Assuming that is he can get his hands on Shoeshine who’s already found refuge in the Capitol City home of an ex-cop (Jim Belushi) and his son Jack (Alex Neuberger). With Jack’s help Shoeshine finds his true calling as man’s best super-powered friend. Oh and when he’s not thwarting jewelry heists he’s trying to win the heart of his very own Lois Lane “Sweet” Polly Purebred (voiced by Amy Adams). But Underdog must set aside his feelings for the King Charles spaniel when Barsinister and his dimwitted henchman Cad (Patrick Warburton) attempt to extort $1 billion from Capitol City. Let the dogfight begin! How wise of Disney not to unleash a computer-generated Underdog à la Garfield or Scooby-Doo. In or out of his formfitting superhero costume Leo the Lemon Beagle deserves a big juicy bone for his energy and resourcefulness. It certainly helps that director Frederik Du Chau knows how to work with animals having previously directed Racing Stripes. Beware though: Leo’s so darn cute that your kids will beg you for a Beagle for Christmas. Jason Lee who crosses over to the side of good after voicing The Incredibles’ malevolence Syndrome makes Underdog as humble and affable as his TV alter ego Earl Hickey from My Name is Earl. Still there are times that Lee’s so laidback with his narration you’ll swear you’re watching an episode of My Name is Underdog. Amy Adams delightfully kooky in Junebug makes for a surprisingly bland Polly. Brad Garrett though makes sure the bullying Rottweiler Riff Raff’s booming bark is worse than his bite. As for the humans K-9’s Jim Belushi is once again upstaged by a canine costar and Alex Neuberger does nothing to suggest he’s got what it takes to be the next tween heartthrob. Disheveled and disfigured Peter Dinklage is suitably hammy as the maniacal man of science. A bleach-blonde Patrick Warburton continues to exploit his Seinfeld fame by playing yet another Puddy-like himbo even though this act lost its novelty many dog years ago. Superheroed out? Then it’s certainly not enough for director Frederik Du Chau to make us believe a dog can fly. That said this Underdog is more for pups than parents. If your child’s never seen an episode of Underdog they’ll certainly get a kick out of the obvious efforts to spoof Superman from our hero’s phone-booth costume changes to his struggle to retain his secret identity. Du Chau doesn’t show much imagination when it comes to chronicling Underdog’s pursuit of truth justice and the American Kennel Club’s Way but at least he gives the predictable proceedings some oomph. He also keeps the poop jokes to a bare minimum and avoids making the kind of sexual innuendos that ruined The Cat in the Hat ensuring this four-legged superhero offers nothing but good clean fun for kids who have grown tired of Ratatouille. Parents though may find themselves wishing they were watching Spider-Man 3 again. Underdog makes no effort to appeal to anyone who isn’t suffering from a severe case of arrested development. Sure those weaned on the cartoon should come away mightily impressed with Underdog’s efforts to stay as true to its source material as possible. But there are only so many times you want to hear Underdog rhyme while he fights all who rob and plunder. Kids though will certainly walk out of the theater singing the beefed-up theme song and rooting for Underdog to save another day.
Set up very much like a documentary United 93 puts you right there onboard United Airlines Flight 93 the fourth hijacked plane on Sept. 11 2001 which crashed in a Pennsylvania field just short of its intended target. The first half of the film cuts between the mundane routine of boarding the ill-fated flight to the horrifying events unfolding at the World Trade Center played out in airport control towers as well as the FAA's command center in Herndon Va. and the military's center at the Northeast Air Defense Sector in upstate New York. Everyone is scrambling trying to figure out what’s happening while an air of absolute powerlessness hovers over them. Then for the last unbelievably heart-wrenching 30 minutes or so we are back on the plane. We watch as the hijackers wait and wait to make a move and then once they do watch as the passengers realize the gravity of the situation after talking with their loved ones on the ground. The heroism the defiance is palpable. "They were the first people to inhabit the post-9/11 world " Greengrass says in the press notes. And to keep things as accurate as possible Greengrass reportedly interviewed more than 100 family members and friends of those who perished in order to get not only their blessings but an inkling of what might have transpired on the plane. He also gathered facts from the 9/11 Commission Report. He hired flight attendants and commercial airline pilots to play those roles; hired several civilian and military controllers on duty on Sept. 11 including the FAA's Ben Sliney who plays himself; and finally rehearsed and shot his actors in an old Boeing 757 at England's Pinewood Studios. You’ll recognize some faces character actors who’ve been in countless films and TV shows. But the key is to keep United 93 rooted in reality--and to do that you can’t have an A-list star mussing it up. Greengrass is not afraid of making hard-hitting films such as 2002's Bloody Sunday a dramatization of the Irish civil rights protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops on January 30 1972. With United 93 he has once again documented one of modern history’s most defining moments. Of course the controversy surrounding United 93--whether or not it should have even been made--is all understandable and justifiable. Sept. 11 is still indeed a raw nerve. How can it not be? We are living in a completely changed world because of it and no amount of time can ever really alter that. But you can't fault Greengrass for feeling compelled to tell this story and can only appreciate him for doing his homework thoroughly and giving it to us straight from the heart. Sort of a collective heart I should say since it really speaks to humanity and the ways we are capable of such great courage in the face of such insurmountable odds. Obviously we will never know exactly what happened on the flight but at least we know something monumental took place. Now let’s see how Oliver Stone and Nicolas Cage handle 9/11 in the upcoming World Trade Center.