Public Enemies

Being great big swoony fans of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, we had to go see director Michael Mann's new film, "Public Enemies". We liked it, and I suppose that our main criticism of the film is that it wasn't quite good enough.

It's based on real history. Based, sure, and we forgive a film like this its many deviations from historical fact and its excursions into pure fantasy, because we want it to be entertaining, and not just a recitation of dates and occurances, but a film about a historical personality should be a bit more than just an entertainment.

Johnny Depp already tried his hand at historical drama, with 2004's The Libertine. That was a truly rich portrait of a man and a time. By the end of it, we can feel we know the Earl of Rochester, and the world of restoration England in which he lived. We see Rochester being noble, awful, strong, weak, vital, sick, etcetera, and through contrast we understand that he was a complex person. We understand that he was a real person. We don't necessarily undertsand him, but we understand who he was.

The portrayal of John Dillinger in "Public Enemies" is not as full a portrait of either the man or the time. It's a picture. It captures the surface without digging any deeper. We don't get to see very many sides to Depp's Dillinger, not very much at all of Bale's Purvis.

Really, this film is an action film. Plenty of gunfights and fast driving, with little edification. I don't know if I should have expected more from Michael Mann.

2009.07.14 at 12:00am EDT