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.
Top Story: Van Der Beek Weds Actress McComb
James Van Der Beek, star of the WB show Dawson's Creek--which recently ended its six-year run--married actress Heather McComb (All the Real Girls) Saturday in Malibu, Calif., The Associated Press reports. McComb wore a Vera Wang gown, and the groom wore Armani, Van Der Beek's publicist, Cindy Guagenti, told AP Monday. The reception was held under a white organza tent. Guests included Van Der Beek's Dawson's Creek castmates Michelle Williams, Meredith Monroe, Busy Philipps, Hal Ozsan and Mary-Margaret Humes, along with fellow actors Soleil Moon Frye, Teri Polo and Eric Balfour.
Eminem Buys a House
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McCord Runs for SAG Prez
Screen Actors Guild treasurer Kent McCord, best known for co-starring in the hit TV show Adam-12, has decided to run against current SAG president Melissa Gilbert, Variety reports. McCord has been one of the more vocal critics of Gilbert's presidency, including the recent merger proposal between SAG-AFTRA, which fell 2 percent short of approval last week. SAG board member Esai Morales has agreed to serve as McCord's running mate for the newly created post of secretary-treasurer, Variety reports.
Lee and Viacom Settle Dispute Over Name
Director Spike Lee has settled his legal dispute with Viacom, Inc., over the media giant's plans to rename its cable network TNN "Spike TV." According to Reuters, terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Walter Tolub lifted an order that he had issued last month barring Viacom from using the "Spike" name. A source familiar with the situation told Reuters the lawsuit was being withdrawn and that TNN was proceeding with the name change.
Bachelorette Cashes in on Wedding
Reality television star Trista Rehn, aka The Bachelorette, and her fiancé Ryan Sutter will receive $1 million for the TV rights to their fall wedding, AP reports. The couple also had to give the ABC reality show's producers final say on everything from the bridal gown to the flowers, according to The Smoking Gun Web site, which posted the contract between the show's producers and Rehn and Sutter on Monday. ABC will air the two-hour wedding in the fall.
Princess Di Reincarnated as Comic Book Superhero
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MSNBC Host Fired for Derogatory Remarks
Conservative cable news station MSNBC fired Michael Savage Monday from his job as the host of The Savage Nation after the controversial radio personality called a caller a "sodomite" and wished AIDS on him, Reuters reports. On Saturday's show, Savage railed against one caller, saying "Oh, you're one of the sodomites! You should only get AIDS and die, you pig!" An MSNBC representative was not immediately available for comment, but a source familiar with the matter confirmed to Reuters that the show had been canceled. MSNBC hired Savage in February to host a TV version of his popular talk radio show; despite protests from gay rights groups at the time, the show debuted in March.
Role Call: Ryder Eyes Embers, Claire
Winona Ryder has signed up to star with Sean Connery in Milos Forman's Embers, and is also attached to Robert Altman's The Widow Claire. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Embers is about two men (Connery and Klaus Maria Brandauer), once best friends, who meet 41 years later to discuss what drove them apart--a young woman (Ryder) who ended up marrying Connery's character but may have been having an affair with the other man. Claire is set against the backdrop of World War II; Ryder plays a young widow with two children who is caught between the affections of two men--a sweet young soldier about to go to war and the town's most sought-after playboy. Jake Gyllenhaal and Matthew McConaughey have met with Altman about the male roles.
Let's hear it for the old guy who in this movie comes off sexier than his buff young accomplice (Dermot Mulroney). OK the old guy happens to be the gracefully aging icon Paul Newman -- as a feisty heistmeister who dodges a long prison sentence and then teams up with his equally conniving rest-home nurse (Linda Fiorentino) on a bank job gone wrong. "Where the Money Is" is breezy suspenseful and as much a love story as anything else -- if you call mentoring a new life in crime a kind of love. The mission-improbable caper is no more or less entertaining than a "Rockford Files" rerun but the film's swerving joyride takes its real thrills from the great escape that Fiorentino's Bonnie Parker makes from a dead-end life in the married lane.
Newman still hasn't lost it and as Henry Manning he doesn't miss any nuances in the edgy balance between streetwise wariness and amiable rapport with his sultry new colleague. The steam-powered Fiorentino has forged her career by making danger look casual and this is her most alluring work since "The Last Seduction" added another zero to her salary. Her chemistry with Newman a flirty twist on the idea of honor among thieves is really what makes this movie worth seeing. Mulroney is serviceable as the dim but lovable hubby a supporting role that's more foil than fully etched character.
We can all thank director Marek Kanievska for deciding not to have the May-December duo end up in the sack and leaving them simply professional cohorts. The director's admirable sense of comic timing works all the better by not letting the laughs get in the way of his leads' exploration of their characters -- although there's no denying the limits of this frothy genre. Perhaps Kanievska's greatest feat here is allowing Newman to retain his dignity in close-up.