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Public Enemies
Great actors, great director, great story.
Public Enemies
Johnny Depp Stars in "Public Enemies."
OPENING WEEKEND: $28,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $80,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

April 13th, 2009: The Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s.

What to Expect: Boy, Christian Bale is just everywhere, isn't he? First the whole Dark Knightapalooza, and then his now-infamous on-set meltdown, and now he's about to star in two of this summer's biggest releases, first "Terminator: Salvation" and then "Public Enemies," in which he plays FBI agent Melvin Purvis, who pursues notorious bank robber John Dillinger and is credited by many with ushering in the modern era of the FBI with its ten most wanted lists. His career...puzzles me. After being a child actor in "Empire of the Sun" and "Newsies," he graduated to teen-heartthrob status with "Little Women" and then kind of languished in the midlist for some years, starring in films like "Reign of Fire," "Equilibrium" and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin." He did a couple of interesting indie films, most notably "American Psycho" and "The Machinist," neither of which were financially successful. That all changed in 2005 when he was cast in "Batman Begins." Then suddenly the big ticket jobs came rolling down the pike. "The Prestige." "3:10 to Yuma." And now, we have the Summer of Bale upon us.

Article continues below

Bale has a reputation among filmgoers as one of those guys whose presence in a film automatically makes you more optimistic about the production. He's joined in that assessment by actors like Morgan Freeman, Kate Winslet and his co-star in this film, Johnny Depp, who's also been a bit of everywhere the last few years. There isn't an iconic figure he won't tackle. First he created one in Captain Jack Sparrow, then he dared reimagine Willy Wonka, then he tackled Sweeney Todd, now he's playing John Dillinger, and he's just reteamed with his favorite director, Tim Burton, to play the Mad Hatter in Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" film.

In many ways, Bale's and Depp's careers have taken very similar trajectories. Both started very young, were Tiger Beat pinups, and transitioned smoothly into respectable working actors who gradually built up respect and Hollywood clout with a mixture of mainstream and artistic roles that demonstrated their versatility, all the while keeping low public profiles (although Bale might have just shattered his in one expletive-laden swoop, and on the heels of an alleged domestic abuse incident last winter) and being generally amiable and decent. Both now enjoy top-ranked Tinseltown clout, and while neither has won an Oscar, both have been nominated and are sure to have at least one statue each by the time they're ready to hang up the greasepaint. Although Depp is ten years older than Bale, it might not be a stretch to say that these two are the DeNiro and Pacino of their time. Both are respected as actors, both play quirky characters, both enjoy huge cult fan followings, and both are in some ways unconventional leading men, the sorts who can play the bad guy just as easily as the good guy. They're both intense, both committed family men, they even bear a passing resemblance to each other. Damn. I've never laid all this out before. Are we sure they're two different people?

So just having them together in this film is pretty exciting. In another stroke of fortune, the film is directed by Michael Mann, who directed "Heat," the long-awaited DeNiro/Pacino teaming. Mann's never been an above-the-title director with a lot of mainstream name recognition, but he's quietly become one of the most competent makers of thoughtful action films in the last decade. He's who you call when you've got an action film or a cop film and you don't want to call Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay. He hasn't made a ton of films, but what he's made has been respected even when it hasn't been lucrative. He made what many consider a superior Hannibal Lecter film, "Manhunter" starring William Petersen, before "Silence of the Lambs" was made. His first major theatrical film was the Daniel Day-Lewis starring "Last of the Mohicans," a movie I confess a longtime fondness for even if it does consist of 80% blowing hair and meaningful stares. He went on to direct "Heat," "Ali," "The Insider," "Collateral," and "Miami Vice." That last one bombed, but I know a lot of people who liked it. His films have produced more than their fair share of Oscar nominations for the leads actors, a sure sign that a director isn't just in it for the pretty explosions. This is a director who's worked with some heavyweight actors, too. His action takes place between people. Mann is also a screenwriter, almost always working from his own scripts. The first adapter of the novel of the same name, Ronan Bennett, has a number of credits to his name...none of which I have ever heard of, so I can't offer much wisdom there. Mann and screenwriter Ann Biderman, who wrote "Copycat" and "Primal Fear," two smart thrillers, polished up the script before shooting began.

But already we've got Depp, Bale and Mann (any other four-letter-named people want to sign on?), and that alone is enough to be kind of exciting. But that isn't all, no sirree. Joining the cast are the recently blue and naked Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover (who will not be wearing any feather boas in the film according to reports, nor any female clothing of any variety), Channing Tatum (who is suddenly hot for reasons that escape me) as Pretty Boy Floyd, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as a love of Dillinger's, and a cast of supporting characters that includes David Wenham, Giovanni Ribisi, Leelee Sobieski, Lili Taylor and Stephen Dorff. I think the casting agents didn't have much trouble getting people to return their calls for this film.

This movie, much like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," is one I feel like I've been hearing about for at least five years. Casting rumors, set reports, yet more set reports, teaser images...I grow weary with the length of the buildup. Most of those set reports and rumors seem to center around two subjects: the various misfortunes that befell the production, and the sheer awesomeness of Johnny Depp, as if that were in any doubt.

First, the misfortunes. The shoot was plagued with weird little happenings. During a car chase scene, a stunt driver hit a patch of ice and skidded out of control, nearly plowing into a group of extras. And we can file this incident also under the "Awesomeness of Johnny Depp" category because Depp, seeing the danger, hurled himself at the extras and pushed them out of the way before the car could strike them. Then, there was gunplay! Someone shot a gun near the set just before the cast arrived. It's unclear whether it was related to the shoot at all, or just someone shooting off a gun for whatever reason one might do such a thing, but there you have it. Then, the location came back to bite them in the ass. Going for cinematic realism, the production tried to use the actual locations of true-life events as much as possible, which led them to Columbus, Wisconsin. Things didn't go so well for Columbus, though...the diversion of heavy traffic from the production caused one of their highways to collapse, leading them to present the production with a hundred thousand dollar bill for repairs. At last report the mayor was hoping to split repair costs with the production.

But enough with the woe betides. Let's hear more about how Johnny Depp is awesome! I just can't get enough of that. I've come across many people whose towns were invaded by the production, and without exception they speak of Depp as gracious and friendly, taking time to greet fans even after a long day of shooting. The great-nephew of John Dillinger, who Mann and Depp interviewed before production started, said that Depp was polite and soft-spoken, and asked many sensitive questions about his famous relative. One oft-reported story was of a young boy who was enamored of the hat Depp was wearing as Dillinger. He asked the actor if he could have it, and Johnny replied that he could, once he was done with it. Months later the boy received a box containing the hat, plus a ton of other Depprabilia, enough for the boy's siblings. Another story involves the actor's love of wine. He and partner Vanessa Paradis, who live in France with their two children, own a vineyard and Depp is reportedly quite the oenophile. Unable to live without it, he had ten cases flown in for himself and the crew to enjoy during filming. There's another story floating around about Depp and some friends eating in a Wisconsin vineyard restaurant, where they were so happy with their meal that Depp left the service staff a $3,000 tip.

Whether these stories are true or not, or whether Depp has his diva-bitch moments (as I'm sure he must), this only demonstrates the kind of image he has with the public, and if you don't think an actor's personal image matters to a moviegoing audience, you're crazy as Tom Cruise, whose career is all but over because he lost his public cache with one too many crazyman incidents. People love Johnny Depp, and they feel good about loving him because he's a legitimately talented actor who does interesting things while not being a famewhore nor a jackass. In return for making it easy for us to love him, we love him unconditionally.

So this film has everything going for it. The stunningly awesome trailers didn't hurt, although there are a few mutterings floating about that Mann's attachment to digital gives the film an odd look, which I confess I didn't detect. Advance buzz from preview screenings is almost all good, barring one very critical review, but you can't please everyone.

It's looking like smooth sailing for this film, even if it has to compete with "Transformers," because a more adult audience that isn't necessarily into comic books films is always looking for something with more substance in the summer movie season. "Public Enemies" is poised to fill that gap.

In Conclusion: Two adored actors and a thoughtful director known for making smart action films make a great team to film the story of one of the most notorious gangsters in US history. The yellow brick road goes all the way to the Emerald City for this film. It might not do Wolverine type numbers, but it'll surely be a success.

Similar Titles: Heat, 3:10 to Yuma
July 1st, 2009 (wide)
December 8th, 2009 (DVD)

Universal Pictures

Michael Mann

Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Marion Cotillard, Channing Tatum, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff, Adam Mucci, Billy Crudup, Stephen Lang, Shawn Hatosy, Emilie de Ravin, James Russo, Leelee Sobieski, Jason Clarke, Lili Taylor

Total: 98 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Drama

Click here to view site

Rated R for gangster violence and some language.

140 min





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