Movie Review: Public Enemies (2009)

public enemiesMyrna Loy, Clark Gable and William Powell appearing on the big screen in my local theatre… gosh, this is the stuff of dreams.  Something I never, ever imagined would actually happen to me. So, when I was seated in said theatre next to my brother and surrounded by a typical modern matinee audience, I nearly jumped out of my seat with the thrill of seeing Myrna, Clark and Bill flashing onscreen before me. The sight of the trio was well worth the six and half dollar admission price alone.

Now, our three old friends don’t appear until Public Enemies (2009) is nearly over, so I had better discuss the rest of the film, too. My expectations were probably outrageously high for Public Enemies. Aside from the presence of Christian Bale (an eternal favorite of mine!), Public Enemies is set in the early 1930’s, with the promise of all the accompanying fabulous music, clothes and cars. This is a time period I am well acquainted with and can usually spot holes when modern filmmakers try to recreate it. Overall, I was quite impressed with the treatment of one of my beloved historical haunts.

Such lovely clothes! Lots of sweaters and long skirts for the ladies, all of which I’d happily wear myself. I saw some terrific hats, too. The men’s suits are spot on – form fitting and impeccably cut. Christian Bale’s were especially good. Johnny Depp‘s clothes were more casual, but still wonderful. He wore some amazing Harold Lloyd style sunglasses that were very becoming.

Speaking of Mr. Depp, I’ve got a slight admission about him: I’ve never been able to stand him. The Pirates of the Caribbean films, while truly entertaining, did nothing to increase his appeal in my estimation. Actually, he rather creeped me out. I just found it impossible to appreciate his efforts as an actor. In light of these feelings, I was genuinely surprised how much I liked his character in Public Enemies. It’s a crazy admission because Johnny Depp plays John Dillinger, the notorious Public Enemy #1.

Public Enemies begins with John Dillinger breaking out of prison and follows him through his short-lived career, ending when he is gunned down by FBI agents outside the theatre where he had just seen Manhattan Melodrama (1934). Christian Bale plays Melvin Purvis, the capable special agent assigned to catch Dillinger by J. Edgar Hoover. Christian plays the character with a Texan accent (I think, don’t quote me) which is charming and remarkably good, especially considering he hails from Wales. My one objection about him: he wasn’t onscreen nearly enough! The role of Melvin Purvis is actually a supporting part. It should have been beefed up for him, in my humble opinion.

Marion Cotillard plays Billie Frenchette, the honest hat check girl who falls in love with Dillinger. The love affair between Dillinger and Billie is based in mutual affection and consequently makes for a highly believable on-screen teaming. It reminds me of the tender love stories portrayed in the classic films we all adore. This romance makes the impending doom of John Dillinger even harder to take as the film goes on. It becomes quite sad because as a viewer, you actually identify with John Dillinger and want to see him living happily-ever-after when the end credits roll.

I’ve got two beefs with the film overall. First, the directing style. The camera moves in short jerky spasms throughout the entire film. I think it is supposed to give the audience the sense of participating in each of the scenes, instead of only watching, but it fails miserably. It’s hard to visually focus on the actors because the camera moves so fast. The identification shots of some of the supporting characters are ridiculously short and make it hard to follow the sub plots.

My other beef with Public Enemies was the gore level. Yeah, I know this is a modern film, and it’s competing with all the dreadful blood fests that pass for movies nowadays. I understand that. I still think the gore level was too high. Every time someone was shot (which was often) the camera caught the impact and logical aftermath. Of course, it’s true that when people are shot they bleed. But must we be forced to see it every single time? Call me sheltered, but the gun battles of the Warner Brother’s gangster films from the 30’s are quite enough for me. I found the lingering shots of battle wounds ironic and puzzling, considering the director did not provide similarly timed shots of the actors themselves for the sake of story development.

Final thoughts? All in all, I enjoyed Public Enemies. I watch films for the costumes and scenery as much as the story, so I found plenty to be interested in here. The story is a good one, too – engaging and interesting in spite of the fact we all know how it turns out in the end. As for the gore, I close my eyes tight for all such scenes. It’s a wonderful method I’ve used for years to get me through the skin-crawly parts of popular films. I highly recommend it. :)

If you’re a fan of the 30’s, I think you’ll like Public Enemies. The scenery and cars are beautiful. The 1930’s are brought to vivid life right before your eyes. And, hey – how can anyone pass up the chance to see Christian Bale in a fedora? ;)


Filed under Movie Review

11 responses to “Movie Review: Public Enemies (2009)

  1. Great idea to do a review on a contemporary film set in a classic film-friendly era. :-)

    I didn’t care to see this in the theater, or at all actually, but now I might just watch it when it’s on DVD.

    I agree with you on gore. Some movies just don’t need it. It seems gratuitously used these days. I think violence wasn’t as glorified in classic films as it is now.

    Christian Bale + Fedora = awesome

  2. Sounds great, Casey…adding this one to my must-see list… J. Depp and C. Bale… *SWOON*… Happy Day ((HUGS))

  3. Raquelle– You’re quite wise to avoid theatre viewings. For this one, it sounded like all the firearms were actually being shot off in the same room w/ us. Talk about loud! At least @ home you can turn down the volume! ;)

    I think it’s worth watching on DVD when it comes out. I always swear I’m not going to waste the money seeing a film in theatres because the admission price usually pays for the DVD later, but this one got the better of me.

    Hooray for a kindred spirit in the anti-gore campaign! You’re right – violence wasn’t as glorified in the classic films. It was real enough to get the point across, but still preserve some dignity.

    Tracy– *SWOON* is right, boy! Hugs to you too. :)

  4. The only time I ever make it out to the theater is at my favorite repertory ones that show classic films or tagging along with friends as they see contemporary ones. Otherwise, it’s nice to snuggle up on the couch and watch a movie at home with an appropriate sound level and no fidgety kids kicking the back of my chair.

  5. Hmmm. Not sure even a tip of the fedora from you will make me want to see this one. Not at all surprised to hear of the hyperactive direction and silly violence… I agree totally about Depp, too. Complete mystery man as far as I’m concerned. And is it only me who thinks he’s had a ton of face work done? He looks like a waxwork that’s been left in the sun.
    And Bale’s lost on me too, me being a chap and all.
    No, think I’ll stick to the real thing – thirties Warner Brothers.
    As you are a Bale devotee, however, I’m wondering what you thought of The Prestige? Most people hate it. I thought it was pretty good…

  6. Pretty Girl Floyd

    Purvis said two days after Dillinger’s Sunday Night at the Movies that outside the Biograph he had men stationed everywhere and that the odds were something like 22-1.
    I’ve always thought that had the ambush-assassination not been so one-sided, more, say, like 15-1, Johnnie would have escaped yet again.

    That aside, the review here and concomitant palaver are a crime.

  7. Raquelle – So true about those fidget-ers! I hate those ones who kick the back of chairs! I’d so much rather curl up on the couch, too.

    Matthew – I don’t blame you. The Warner Brothers have it all over modern filmmakers. I totally agree w/ your assessment of J Depp! His face is completely bizarre! Maybe he’s an escapee from Madame Tussauds?

    On The Prestige – I can see why you liked it, since it has many horror film aspects. The issue of Hugh Jackman killing himself over and over disturbed me. It kind of overshadows all the rest of the film for me. I enjoyed Bale’s performance a lot. The cockney accent was great. Overall, I think I need to watch it again to fully understand everything that happened. I left my first viewing with lots of questions. The image of the mountain of top hats in the field has left a great impression on me, though. I thought that was so neat. :)

    Hi Pretty Girl Floyd – I was thinking about the sheer # of cops that must have been stationed around the theatre. I can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been.
    Thanks so much for your knowledgeable comment!

  8. Oh definitely watch it a second time – it’s like watching a totally different film. So many things that passed you by suddenly leap out at you. Yes, that image of all the top hats was really beautiful.
    I must confess that Scarlett was the other attraction for me. What can I say? I’m a man. I’m weak.

  9. Oh, okay. I definitely rewatch it. I’m not surprised about your appreciation of Scarlett. I kind of figured. She is terribly pretty, though, so it’s understandable. :)

  10. Great review! I agree with you on most things, except that I like Depp a lot more than Bale ;) But at least, Bale didn’t speak in his ridiculous Batman-voice, and I’m happy for that! Don’t get me wrong, I think Bale is one of few promising actors today. But that Batman-voice just gave me chills (and not in the good way).

  11. Thanks, Lolita! I understand about your Depp preference. To each his own… ;) I don’t mind the Batman voice so much. I always think of it as his way to disguise his Welsh accent. It is creepy though. Thanks so much for the comment! Can’t wait to read your PE post!

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