Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Public Enemies directed by Michael Mann

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Michael Mann films defy description.

His movies are always sold to the public as big budget action films, but in the midst of watching them it quickly becomes apparent that his works are actually dramatic, fascinating, intricate character pieces.

Well...dramatic character pieces that also happens to have riveting, intense and well choreographed action.

I believe it would be more appropriate if his films were released during awards season instead of the summer action movie season.

His works routinely deserve legitimate Oscar consideration.

This is especially true of his most recent release Public Enemies, which is arguably his best film to date.

The film features his standard awe inspiring action and impressive performances by the entire cast. But this time Mann tackles the historical story of gangster John Dillinger.

Besides the difficulties of translating a real life figure to film, Mann also chose to shoot the movie in digital HD. Which is unusual for a period piece.

I'm happy to report that Mann succeeds on all fronts.

The motion picture is stunning in it's visual quality. Especially impressive is the production design and look of the video. The clarity of the depth of field that a Digital HD Camera provides is remarkable and something I really didn't notice till watching this movie.

As far as the performances go, it all begins of course with Johnny Depp, who turns in a well-publicized, complicated and charming performance as the famous gangster John Dillinger. Depp's Dillinger is a character who is affable one second, yet deadly and frustratingly short sighted the next. It's a fascinating and perhaps the most accurate portrait of a man who was seen in stark contrast as a likeable gentlemen by some and as a murderous robber by others.

As the soft spoken and humble Billie Frechette, Marion Cotillard solidifies her position in Hollywood as one of the most interesting young actresses working today. In this film she turns in a heartbreaking performance. Although obviously not the biggest role in the film, it's clear by the end that the movie's heart lies in her character.

In a thankless yet pivotal role, Christian Bale turns in a terrific understated performance as the conflicted and ultimately mentally anguished Melvin Purvis. I find it stunning that the performance is being overlooked by critics. It's a performance so complicated and intricate that his work isn't even fully realized until the final post script of the film.

But the performance that I appreciated the most though was Stephen Lang as Charles Winstead. Lang has very little dialogue in the film but his presence and authority in the story is stunning to witness. His final scene with Marion Cotillard is fantastic to watch and will perhaps go down as a classic scene in modern movie history.

Make no mistake about it however, the motion picture is signature Michael Mann.

The movie has his trademark incredible action and excellent drama. But what I really appreciated about the picture was how Mann dealt with historic moments like Dillinger's classic escape, with a carved wooden gun from the prison of Sherrif Lillian Holley, played by Lili Taylor. Mann pays no noticeable reverence to this moment. In a lesser hand I'm sure the planning and staging of the event would be overly explained and given undue weight. But in Mann's capable hands the moment is simply carried out with ferocity, realism and a refreshing honesty which makes the moment real for the viewer rather than a stuffy and bloated moment in history. Especially effective is the final moments of Dillinger's life at the movie house. Mann excellently contrasts Dillinger's ultimate fate with scenes of Clark Gable's character from the film Dillinger is watching titled Manhattan Melodrama.

It's fantastic stuff.

Just like the entire movie, which I feel is a legitimate classic and in my humble opinion is a modern masterpiece.

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