Public Enemies (2009)

“Public Enemies” (2009)

public enemies


avenging hats

Some genres are constantly renewing, because they appeal to pieces and bits of our imagination that never wither, despite the political context or the ideological moment we live in. Such are the cases of the date movies, horror, or mystery. Others come and go, and every come back depends largely, to my view, on what the public demands in the specific moment of the movie. Those are the cases of the western and the gangster film. This is, i think, because both genres always deal with extreme heroic (or anti-hero) characters. Those characters always stand for something, usually selfless, usually en formed by a superior concept of moral, that exceeds the “law”, and digs into what really matters. Right now we are living through something the media calls crisis, and which, apparently, has to do with mismanagement, corruption, something about those who have some (or a lot of) power using their superior position to take away from the blind people, those who right now struggle to keep the few they have, while the powerful get away with it. This is the story line that common people accept as the summary of what is happening right now. That’s why it is highly desirable to make now a film about a man like Dilinger, something who in other times, of deeper depression, became the hero for the unhappy people. Again, today as in those days, people feel unsatisfied, and need guiding lights, not coming from the upper unworthy classes, but from next door. That’s when we have such guys portrayed as heroes, and the cops being the bad guys. Twenty years ago, Untouchables presented quite a different view. Cinema reflects life, without being life.

Now, there’s more to this film than the mere pertinence of its story. Michael Mann is an interesting director, one who really knows how to create spectacles through which we can look at his worlds like he wanted us to. He builds his films not on the narrative devices, which are always linear and usually predictable. Instead he makes an interesting mix of working characters, and building a mood out of them. In his films the characters do not exist as pieces of the world within. Instead they set the ton of that world. They don’t exist in a world, the world exists within them. We, as audience, are wrapped by that world, as if caught by a snowing ball, that started rolling much before we started watching it. Mann uses, for this effect, the careful framing of details, the detachment from the establishing shots, which exist but do not drive the mood. That’s why we have car mirror details, reflections, carefully photographed hats. We have that because John Dilinger tells us we live there.

Two powerful scenes to be noticed. One is when Dilinger sneaks into the police department investigating him. It clearly sounds as an inserted piece of invention into a real story line, and so the scene gives us nothing new in terms of narrative development. But it is a great piece of visual/sound adequation. The other scene is the final sequence, starting in the theatre and going to the very end. Dilinger gets in, sided by two prostitutes whom we know squealed on him. They watch a gangster film, starring Clark Gable. From than on we inter cut between scenes of that film, Depp’s gazing at it, with a premonitory look, and the police outside the theatre getting ready to get him. All this is en formed by the music. There is a game of Gable’s film, projected onto Dilinger’s feelings at the moment, and there is the police, leaded by Bale’s character, projected into us, viewers, who gaze at Dilinger knowing what will happen, while he looks back at us, announcing that he also guesses what will happen, for the film “told” him. This simple game of correspondence, competently hampered by the music fills the tension. Great. The ending, with no music, and the directness with which the policeman reports Dilinger’s death to his lover is as contrasting as it is wrecking. This final sequence is precious.

One major complaint, however. Mann shoots HD, and he is really exploring the medium. But because hd captures so much image detail, it is harder to elude the viewer, every editing or camera or actors minor flaw is enhanced to much bigger proportion than it used to be with film or dv. This film is filled with moments which just look poorly edited. I think this is only noticeable if you watch it on the big screen, so the film will probably gain something distributed for home viewing. Anyway, it distracts.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb


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