The pairing of Christian Bale and Johnny Depp, with Michael Mann steering the ship, is surely the stuff of cinema dreams. Throw in a true story of an uber cool bank robber and you’ve got a winner before you ever get past the title screen. You’ve blown up the balloon to its maximum capacity and you’re about to release it, ready to be thrilled as it zooms across the room in a zigzag of fun chaos, complete with silly noises. Alas this was more like those times when you fumble the release and end up with a sputtering disappointment, some spittle in your face, and then a final flop to the ground.
Depp plays John Dillinger, a notorious bank robber (and namesake of metal mathcore band “the Dillinger Escape Plan”, a name that automatically pops into my head every time I say John Dillinger. There – it did it again.) Dillinger is a cheeky chappy, dodging the law and wangling his way out of prison every now and then (hence the band name). Depp nails the cool cheek of the man, dabbles in some deeper shades of emotion, but seems to spend most of the time attempting to squint his eyes and smile with only one half of his mouth. Take it from the expert – you’ve got to have a lifetime of practice before you get that smile right.
Meanwhile Bale plays FBI chap Melvin Purvis, assigned the task of hunting down Dillinger for good. As with Terminator, our Bale doesn’t get to do an awful lot besides running, a bit of shouting, and some moody staring out of windows.
There are some interesting choices in direction, particularly going digital for a night time shoot-out. The ‘digi’ effect wipes the usual sepia focus that covers this time period and gives an immediate feel, making things seem quite real. Either that or difficult to follow and as if filmed on your dad’s holiday camcorder.
What causes the failed balloon effect on this film is the fact that it focused entirely on the wrong guy. Dillinger is made the main man here, a bank robber with a slight weakness for a particular woman, who dodges police. Been there – done that. Bonnie and Clyde got the t-shirt. After 140 minutes, in which a surprisingly small amount of things happen, the usual blurbs appear that let you know what happened to each character next. And without even a bat of an eye Melvin Purvis – Bale’s FBI chap – gets a few sentences which sound infinitely more interesting than what you’ve just seen. Search his name and check out his life story. Now that would have been a good film! That would have given Bale something to get his chops round (and see if the Machinist was just a fluke…) That should have been this film. Not slightly clunky, slightly bland bank robber, cat and mouse type stuff.
For what it is, this is ok. Just ok. For what it could have been just make the noise of a balloon slowly deflating. I know I’m super intelligent, but surely the guys could have taken a few more minutes to check out the better story before ploughing into making this film. For such a stonking mistake, Public Enemies slips down a point and gets a balloon in the face CF-1.