Flixchatter Review: Public Enemies

This flix was on my must-see list of this year, and I was determined not to be affected by the mixed reviews. I mean, more often than not, the critics are wrong anyway, so I went in convinced I was going to absolutely LOVE this flix!  Alas, the flix was just ok, it didn’t impress me as much as I had hoped. As I’ve hinted in my previous post about the trailers, I enjoyed the trailer ten times better than the flix, and that is such a pity because it could have been a great one.

The best thing about this flix is definitely Johnny Depp as the notorious bank robber John Dillinger. Michael Mann made Dillinger out to be such a hero even though he’s nothing more than a charming and crafty criminal. I don’t have a problem with that because it’s a movie, not a documentary, where creative liberty is an art form with the key purpose being to entertain. But what I do have a problem with is the fact that the flix never quite got me excited enough about the story nor the character. Even Depp with all his magnetism just couldn’t make me care about Dillinger without a strong script that fully fleshed out his character. On top of that, the pace was a so slow at times that I remember glancing at my watch wondering when it’ll be over. Not a good sign.

I learned as the movie progressed that Dillinger was not an enemy ‘of’ the public, but rather, an enemy ‘in’ public. He lived his live thinking he was invincible, having escaped from prison multiple times, and he reveled in being such an elusive delinquent who constantly one-uped the FBI. In fact, the coolest scenes were the prison escape scenes (especially in the opening of the movie) and when Dillinger stealthily sneaked into public places right under the Fed’s noses. Even as his photo was flashing on the movie theater screens and people were told to look around them as ‘the enemy might be sitting right next to them,’ he was virtually invisible. The camera would then zoomed in on his smug smirk and it was such a thrill because of the way Depp portrayed him.

Another issue I have with this flix was the love story between Dillinger and Billie Frechette, played by recent Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. Such a beautiful couple, but despite their best efforts, they lacked a certain chemistry that’d make their emotional bond believable. I didn’t cry when Billie mourned Dillinger at the end, even as the camera focused on her tear-filled eyes. And most of my friends know I’m such a sob, I cried watching Finding Nemo for shrimp sakes, and those cute animal videos on YouTube!

Nonetheless, what’s lacking in character development, it was largely made up with style. Mann’s glossy 1930s recreation was fantastic down to the last detail: the costume design, the cars, music, etc. – they all worked well to capture the mood and sensibility of the depression era. Love the costumes of the film, all those dapper men in suits, it was like a good long retro GQ commercial!

Besides Depp, there were some notable performances: Billy Crudup was excellent as the eccentric FBI director J. Edgar Hoover; and an unknown actor Jason Clarke was quite moving as Dillinger’s buddy John ‘Red’ Hamilton. Christian Bale was okay as the ambitious but morally ambiguous agent Melvin Purvis, but compared to his other terrific roles, this one was practically forgettable. I can see now why he wasn’t in the promos for this flix. I think his next role as a crack-addict boxer opposite Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter might be something more worthy to sink his teeth into. The supporting cast was full of pretty well-known actors that was unrecognizable at first: David Wendham (Dilios in 300), Stephen Dorff, Giovanni Ribisi, and jazz singer Diana Crall had a cameo as a lounge singer.

In a nutshell, this film could’ve been a classic with a stronger script. As it is now, it’s style over substance, which makes for a fairly entertaining but not memorable fare. If you’d rather see a compelling story with truly believable and affecting characters that’s also based on a true story, rent The Insider instead – my favorite Michael Mann’s flix by far!

Have you seen this film? What do you think of Public Enemies?

Flixchatter Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

Ok now, The Taking of Pelham 123 is yet another remake (clearly Hollywood’s long been out of original ideas!) of a subway train being hijacked. It’s a simple premise really, but director Tony Scott managed to inject enough tension and sharp dialogue to keep audience engaged. This is a story of an ordinary man forced into extraordinary circumstances, played brilliantly by Denzel Washington. The normally dashing Oscar winner was able to convince us he’s just a regular joe in a not-so-regular day at work. Compared to his debonair and opulent look in American Gangster with his sharply-pressed suit, he’s almost entirely transformed here. Most of the time, his character Walter Garber looks perplexed and frazzled, but yet you still gets a sense he’d get the job done and carry the day in the end.

John Travolta’s role offers a strong contrast as the ultimate baddie. A self-described wronged man, Ryder is hell-bent on revenge against the NYC government, Travolta channeled his role as Castor Troy in Face/Off with his sinister laughs and facial ticks. Just like Troy, he’s not an entirely unsympathetic villain—one can’t help feeling sorry for him as much as we despise what he does.

Instead of filling it with non-stop action sequences, the movie consist a large amount of dialogue between Ryder and Garber, mostly over an intercom. I have no problem with that, in fact it makes the action sequences and car crashes all the more effectively jolting.

The one thing I could do without is the crude language and overly excessive amount of @$$ jokes for my taste, which I don’t think is necessary. IHMO, If they take all the profanities out, I don’t think it’d lessen the impact of the whole situation. Someone else might pick on the migrane-inducing shaky camera movement used throughout. It seems to be the technique du jour ever since the Bourne series came about. Doesn’t bother me though, but I feel that it’s not as highly effective as the way it was done in Bourne where it almost enhances the plotline.

In any case, I think the script is a strong one and it’s truly what’s good about this flix. The  enjoyable repartee lets you in on the character’s own dilemmas and predicaments, making their ‘connection’ believable. You enjoy their banter so much that at one point when Garber’s replaced by an official hostage negotiator (played by John Turturro) — a costly move on the part of the hostages — we want Garber back as much as Ryder does. The two finally face off towards the end, and Travolta quips, ‘You’re taller than I imagined you’d be. And good lookin’ too.’ It’s a funny line delivered in the same manner as when Castor Troy visits ‘himself’ in jail in the form of Nicolas Cage (you have to see Face/Off to know what I mean, hmmm now I want to watch it again myself!)

Besides Turturro, James Gandolfini was another solid supporting cast member. When I saw him I thought, ‘What, Tony Soprano? Wow Ryder picked the wrong mayor to deal with today!’  But Gandolfini revealed  his funny side not much seen by the public, which is too bad because his comic timing is spotless. Coming out of his limo, he said ‘I left my Rudy Giulliani suit at home’ in an apparent jab at the former Republican mayor. I actually saw his funny side in this little-seen musical called Romance & Cigarettes, which strangely enough was directed by  John Turturo! I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2005. It was around 11 AM and the director himself came and introduced the flick. He said “sorry you had to watch a dirty film so early in the morning” or something like that. It was a rather vulgar but hilarious musical where Gandolfini sang and danced along with a terrific cast of Christopher Walken, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet (as his prostitute lover!).

Sorry I digress. Overall, Pelham is a pretty good movie. It won’t win an Oscar, nor would it linger in your memory for days to come. It could’ve been better under a more capable hand at the helm, say Michael Mann. Nevertheless, with Washington and Travolta in top form, it’s a pretty entertaining flix worth your 10 bucks.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels

Have you seen this movie? Well what do you think?