Michael Mann is an enigma. First he graced us with the mesmerising 90's crime epic Heat, a brilliant cat and mouse thriller between two of cinema's most iconic character actor's. Then came Ali, which was underrated, but nonetheless a well directed and acted film about the legend that is Muhammad Ali. Collateral was an excellently executed (no pun intended!) thriller, with a silver haired Tom Cruise acting against type as a hitman. Now Miami vice? that was a movie where you could literally see the clockworks come off a once great director; it was a poor film to say the least. The acting (esp. From Gong Li) was abysmal. The directing very shoddy. The script, well lets not go there. And except for Colin Farell's rather cool 'tache, everything else was rather uncool to be honest. It is his weakest film.
And so what do i make of his most recent crime fare, Public Enemies? One thing i can say is that its a big improvement on Miami Vice. We arent exactly back in to Heat territory, but its awful close. Mann is a fan of using the HD format, and the handheld style and it shows; Public Enemies is visually stunning, its picture quality pin sharp, and in places, esp. in the action scenes, you can smell the smoke from the tommy guns! It is a marvellous feat. Mann has come far from his Manhunter, and even Heat directing days. He has taken on board and embraced what modern technology can offer. 30's Chichago/America has never looked so real, so immersive than in this film. It is as if you are transported into that period and witnessing first hand, the look, the feel and the smells of that marvellous era of American history.
Story wise, there have been a few tailored changes from actual historical accuracy, but it is an affecting and engaging film nevertheless. Depp and Bale are two of the most talented actors working in film today, but both are very reserved in this film. But that is how Mann wanted to portray these men; both dedicated and unwavering and methodical in their chosen professions. The standout performance must go to Marion Cotillard as Depp's girlfriend. They're romance is doomed from the start, and you can see in her eyes that she knows this, although Depp's Dillinger tells her otherwise. He is a dreamer, hoping one day to whisk her away to a place 'off the map' and she, the realist in the relationship, knows otherwise.There is a very affecting scene towards the end where she is violently interogated by a 'fat flatfoot' officer, and the way she handles the scene and forwards the emotions on screen where you feel for her, is a mark of what a great actress she is.
Those who know the factual story of Dillinger will know the outcome of what happens to him suffice to say that on film it is a truly affecting scene. Before the execution; Depp's character is in a cinema, watching a film (Manhattan Melodrama) where there are scenes which correlate with his own life. These moments will be his last, almost his last earthly joys, his last supper. The scenes leading up to the stakeout itself, he is sold out to the F.B.I by someone whom he trusts.The culmination and what follows is a sad scene, made all the more poignant by the manner of Dillinger's demise. And the line he utters to Stephen Lang's agent before passing away, and the follwing scene where he (Lang) repeats it to Cottilard's character is truly heartbreaking.
Public Enemies is an excellent crime thriller from the king of crime movies, Michael Mann. Visceral, stunning, entertaining, vital film making at its best. A great addition to the crime movie hall of fame.