Public Enemies (2009)

(In theatres, July 2009): Depression-era Chicago, gangster Dillinger, early days of the FBI, Marion Cotillard as a moll, Michael Mann directing: What can possibly go wrong? Plenty of things, actually, starting with Mann’s increasingly ugly fixation for digital filmmaking: Public Enemies often looks cheap and out of control: a night-time shootout looks as if it’s been filmed on video by amateurs, the handheld camera is constantly used without reason, while several other scenes are insufficiently lit. Meanwhile, though, there isn’t much going on in the tangential and confused script: scenes come and go, but there’s little attachment to the characters, what they’re doing or where they’re going. Among other things, the story touches lightly upon Dillinger’s extraordinary popularity at the time, and messes up the chronology for several members of the Dillinger gang. Johnny Depp and Christian Bale star, but neither of them show the skills they’re best known for. The result is an overlong mess, and an uninvolving one… especially given the elements the film could draw upon. This is the third substantially-digital film by Mann, and after Collateral and Miami Vice, it’s clear that he’s getting less and less successful with each of them. What’s going on?

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