Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Public Enemies

John Dillinger’s story holds a particular interest for me. We live near where he “worked” and I taught a class one summer at Indiana State Prison which seems proud to own him as a legendary foe.

Right or wrong, Dillinger was something of a folk hero from the start. A gentleman robber with a dash of class, ingenuity, and an interest more in fun than violence seems a sure-fire spark for the American imagination. A guilty pleasure, watching a larger than life figure blast his way through obstacles and engineer heists and escapes.

Good: often the camera work brings the story to life and transports you back in time to experience it. Johnny Depp et alia are as fantastic as one could expect and are aided by cars, costumes, guns, and fun all around. Numerous great quotes and moments, some poignant, some laugh-out-loud.

Bad: the camera work is sometimes terrible. This is a Michael Mann film (remember Heat?). This means the actors use their guns convincingly and the sets are beyond detailed. But once in a while (example: at least once during the shootout in Wisconsin) I fully expected to hear the director yell “cut!” and realize I was watching a documentary about the film, not the polished final version of the film itself.

Personal Complaint: Again, this is a Mann film. Why so many historical inaccuracies? Immerse me in actual detail, Mann. Come one, bore me just a little here and there with realism. I expect it from you! And why do filmmakers keep using J. Edgar Hoover as a predictable, cheap punchline to no joke? I suspect the real Hoover was simply a cardboard cutout kindly¬† invented by the FBI for the sole purpose of 2-d movie usage by subsequent generations. Last, why retell the story such that lawmen seem to have no redeeming qualities and Dillinger seems completely sympathetic? For example, in the movie, Dillinger seems completely faithful and taken by his true love yet in real life he was killed in the company of prostitues. The movie almost seems to be trying for an analogy to Bush-era torture policy, showing inhumane interrogation of a prisoner in agony, or having a cartoonish G-man slapping a woman around, while seemingly ignoring any consequence of Dillinger’s behavior. Perhaps nobody of value ever felt slighted by Dillinger, not even the families of those killed during his heists and escapes.

In the end, this is more story-telling than history-telling with actual truth and consequences. Nonetheless, it’s fun, it’s well acted and it’s more worth your hard-earned dollars than most of the other films out there.

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