This film is neither hopeless nor particularly successful. It is, though, too narrowly rendered. Its every moment falls into one of two categories: either (a) bank-heist, shoot-out-with-the-police, bust-out-of-jail BANG! BANG! or else (b) characters, talky-talky, readying themselves for (a). The only exceptions are a nicely buttoned-up, slightly homocaricaturist performance by Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover (underused) and a spark-free romance between Dillinger and Marion Cotillard's Billie Frechette, something hamstrung on the level of performance by the fact that Johnny Depp clearly isn't that into her, and on the level of the text by the fact that her anxiety that her boyf. is going to get hurt in all the BANG! BANG! BANG! runs entirely contrary to the movie's entire BANG! rationale, which is fully horizoned by BANG! BANG! and the varities of male BANG! posturing that appertain thereunto.
Public Enemies is a peculiarly flattened piece of film-making. The characters have no lives apart from the BANG! BANG!: no families, no communities to which they belong, no BANG! purpose or focus to their existences BANG! except BANG! And the jittery, faux-clumsy camerwork, the slidy shotframing, the fidgety cutting and the jolting shifts from celuloid to mobile-phone quality digital footage simply doesn't suit the scrupulous set-dressing and period detail. By contrast The Untouchables, in framing its daftnesses with a degree of formal artifice, brought its period much more compellingly to cinematic life. Public Enemies never manages this; the story-arc is too cluttered and fussy, and also, strangely, too denuded of actual context ... John BANG! BANG! Dillinger is supposed to be a celebrity, but apart from one shot of crowds of people lining the street this is wholly told, not shown. The Depression era poverty context is perfectly absent also, apart from a single title-board right at the start of the movie. And moments of rank, gooey sentimentality (bye-bye blackbird, Jonny's stooge declaring 'I gotta a feeling my time's up, and when your time's up ...') cloy, boy, they cloy. The result is diminshing BANG! returns, shootout follows shootout and with each BANG! BANG! BANG! we care a little less. If I had to sum up, though, I'd say the real problem is this face:
We see an awful lot of this face in the movie. The movie, frankly, is a study of this face. Now, Depp is an extremely talented actor; and what I am saying is motivated neither by snippiness nor mere envy. But Depp is too good-looking for this role. The reasoning behind the casting presumably was something like 'Dillinger had charisma, he was like a rock-star, a rock star who robbed banks! We need a big name star who oozes eleven types of charisma ...!' But Dillinger's was a rough-hewn, wild-frontier-throwback sort of charisma. He was, it is true, renowned for being graceful but in a rough, tough, streetfighter sort of way. Dillinger was an alley cat. Johnny Depp, on the other hand, is Johnny Fucking Depp. It underplays his beauty to say 'he looks like a male model', given that most male models would sacrifice a limb to look like him. But a male model, and a fancy-pants clothes horse, is what he is in this film, all the time, in every scene, all the way through. He's more than smooth. He's smoooooth. In Heat we saw the world through the perspective of the De Niro and Pacino characters; in Public Enemies we spend the whole time seeing Johnny Depp. The film needed a lead who looked like this:
And less like:
It didn't get this, though. Because even when he is made-up to look like
we in the audience can't help seeing