Sunday, July 12, 2009

Public Enemies

We spent part of our 4th of July watching Public Enemies, Michael Mann's film about John Dillinger, Melvin Purvis and a host of other good and bad guys from the 1930s. It's a very well-made movie, and as always Mann does a good job of developing the shades of gray in his characters. So while Dillinger is obviously a "bad guy" in the most common sense of the word, he's also a fairly pragmatic one and certainly not a lunatic like his counterparts (and sometimes partners) Pretty Boy Floyd and Babyface Nelson. Johnny Depp is outstanding in the title role, again showing his versatility and his ability to play just about anything.

Christian Bale's performance as Melvin Purvis is much less showy, primarily because Mann and the screenwriters give him less to work with. You never get a sense of what Purvis is like outside of his job - as far as the movie is concerned, he is his job. Bale plays him well, but the role doesn't force him to stretch much. Having said that, he does get what I thought was the best moment in the movie, when one of his underlings is brutalizing Billie, Dillinger's girlfriend, in an effort to find out his whereabouts. Purvis intervenes tenderly but firmly, and it is in that one moment that you see what he is about - justice, but not at all costs.

Kudos to the supporting cast, especially Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover, and Stephen Lang as Charles Winstead, a grizzled veteran of the Texas Rangers that Purvis calls upon to lend his Dillinger operation some ferocity.

I'm not sure it's a great movie, but it's certainly a very good one.

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