Monday, July 6, 2009

Gangster epic

I went to see the movie about John Dillinger, Public Enemies with Johnny Depp last night, the first time I have been to an opening weekend in I don't know how long. Now here's a saga for you: I've been aware of this movie for a long time because it was partly filmed in Oshkosh (which I recognized in the film). My friends in Oshkosh told me to come up, sleep on their floor, and be an extra -- casting calls had gone out for women sizes 2-12 or something odd like that. Of course, I pointed out that they were likely not looking for Asian extras, unless they needed Native Americans (which judging from the movie, no, it was mostly Midwestern, especially the Oshkosh-filmed sections). Anyway, they were more excited about David Wenham, who played Faramir in Lord of the Rings, than Johnny Depp.

For good reason, as it turns out, because there wasn't really any conviction or point of view in Depp's performance, or Christian Bale's for that matter. No, I take that back. Bale had a point of view, but no ability to convey inner struggle through subtle facial expression. Whatever happened to him? He was so good at that in American Psycho. Marion Cotillard, however, was almost too great as Billie, Dillinger's girl. She has a kind of ferocity and intelligence as an actress that only Rachel Weisz also has that I can think of (what an awful sentence). This isn't to say that those are the best things to have; they're also limiting. I can't imagine either of them playing some of the roles that Kate Winslet has, for instance, and it was almost too much for a two-bit coat check girl to be an epic heroine. But it worked here, because this was definitely more of an epic than an action movie or a gangster flick.

The one really moving moment to me didn't even have Depp in it; it's the scene where Billie has been smacked around and 'tortured' during her interrogation, and Bale comes in and expressionlessly releases her and carries her out. It wasn't too hammer over the head in the parallels to Guantanamo, and nothing was said about our moral downfall as we pursue justice, etc. It had the bones of a great scene.

Really quite well made, which no doubt accounts for the storm of good reviews. Beautiful art direction, interesting hand-held style cinematography, a little bit heavy on the epic music. Compared to summer popcorn fare, it's practically arthouse. But I can't figure out how it managed to be a pretty decent movie without great acting from the two male leads, not much chemistry between the romantic leads, and not enough time ever to get to know some of the cooler side characters.

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