Public Enemies (UK - BD)
Our Marcus grabs his tommy gun and shoots out a Blu-ray review for you all...
It's 1930s America and with the introduction of the newly modernised F.B.I. in place the days of crime waves are coming to an end, but with John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) trailing a path of bank robberies across the country, the newly appointed head of the war on crime, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), has a lot to prove and one hell of a gangster to bring to justice.
Public Enemies is another great addition to the ongoing Michael Mann crime drama catalogue. It comes with an authentic feel to the era it’s depicting, it’s well paced and it’s got some fantastic performances from all involved so for the life of me, I’m not too sure why I can’t warm to it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the film at all; in fact there are some scenes in there than I can imagine will be regarded as classic moments in the years to come, but somehow I feel a little at arm’s length from the movie. Its depiction of the end of a crime era going head to head with the new-fangled modern FBI is a strong draw for me as I always love seeing how technology changed entire lifestyles, but these new crime-stopping methods are merely hinted at in the first half of the movie and disappear almost entirely by the second. I’m also not a huge lover of the macho bullshit that comes with crime dramas and while Public Enemies is not the worst offender for it by a long chalk, it still has moments where the ‘real’ men only seem to communicate through a series of intense stares and one word instructions.
Obviously at the centre of all of this are Depp and Bale. Bale plays a supporting role as the focus is Depp’s Dillinger. Also Bale’s performance, while great, sits a little in limbo for me. It’s made all the better for Bale’s brooding presence, but somehow feels like a role that could have been a lot more memorable (and possible Oscar worthy) if given to someone with a little more oomph.
As for Depp, he continues to be a leading man who seems to be able to take you through any story with absolute ease. I’ll admit, this Dillinger took me a little while to warm to but with scenes like his wander around the Police Department and him watching Clark Gable on the big screen in the closing scenes, I found myself feeling sad that this larger than life character had fallen from his perch as the criminal that America loved to hear about and that he'd lost so many around him.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I’m not raving about Public Enemies because after this, my second viewing of the movie, I did enjoy all two hours and twenty minutes without issue. Mann continues to develop his style and storytelling traits and once again his attention to detail and pacing are top notch, but I’m just not feeling it this time out. In the movie's defence, I’ll admit I’m not the biggest crime drama movie fan so there’s already a hurdle but for me Public Enemies was a great ride while it lasted but I just didn’t find anything exceptional in it to take away with me.
Shot in HD, you may find yourself studying the transfer here for its sometimes non-filmic look. Mann has mastered the modern format and uses some fine lighting making most of the movie stand toe to toe with traditional filmmaking, but it has to be said that when Public Enemies displays its obvious digital visuals, it can sometimes feel a little strange.
As an example, the shootout in the woods has Dillinger and the boys firing out of windows at the circling FBI agents and while everything is kinetic and loud, many of the camera shots have the feel of ‘making of’ footage—like we’re seeing the scenes being filmed or rehearsed and we’ll see the final product later. This of course creates a strange illusion of reality but because much of the film plays like a typical movie around moments like this, the styles can sometimes feel a little disjointed.
As for the transfer, what the movie sometimes lacks in filmic quality, it more than makes up for in detail. Skin textures, lighting and detail levels are all fantastic and other than the stylized night scenes almost everything looks incredibly natural.
I did notice a slight flicker to some of the darker shots, which became a little distracting once it’d called attention to itself, and grain levels can cause some issues in many of the night scenes taking the sheen off of the overall look of the movie. Generally though, Public Enemies is a beautifully lit movie that can feel hot and bright with its blue skylines, pleasantly warm with its orange club interiors or stark and cold with its prison greys. Either way, the transfer has a lot to show off even if it's not exceptional.
And here’s where it all goes a little iffy. I was slightly distracted when seeing the movie in the cinema as the sound mix was all over the place, and was very much looking forward to hearing it properly here on Blu-ray. Sadly, it seems to be part of the design and the annoying trend of differing levels of dialogue (from muffled to barely audible) and piercing attacks when gun shots are spewed out makes some parts of Public Enemies very uncomfortable to watch.
Admittedly, most of these issues are only really distracting in the opening ten to fifteen minutes, but the chasm between low muttering dialogue and sound effects is a world apart, so finding a happy level to enable you to stop fiddling with the volume controls is a little annoying.
With that pretty big continuing issue put to one side, the show-off parts of the track are pretty damn epic. As expected, the shoot outs rock the 5.1 systems with absolute realism, with bass punching out aggressively to the point where you’ll be checking for bullet holes in your walls. Atmospherics, from sewing machines clacking in the prison to press firing questions all around Dillinger are all perfectly placed and create a large sound field for Mann to play with. The score sits snugly in the mix and was far more noticeable on the second viewing and even though dialogue levels are never consistent (even within single scenes) for the most part they are clear and well presented.
The commentary with Michael Mann is one that shows off just how lived in his knowledge of the movie's real events and settings are. He throws every nugget of information he has of the era at us and gives a semi-history lesson in amongst his filmmaking stories. Mann is obviously a director who relishes having a firm grasp of every element he’s attempting to present on screen and that trend shows throughout the rest of the features.
First up is ‘Larger Than Life: Adversaries’ (10:19 HD), which for something just over ten minutes long, still provides one of the most enjoyable mini ‘making ofs’ I’ve seen in a while. Mann gives us his insight into the characters and the era and when Depp and Bale give their inputs (including a cheeky story about how Depp tried on Dillinger’s actual trousers when researching) you can’t help but asking why other movies don’t create features that work this well?
‘Michael Mann: Making Public Enemies’ (20:32 HD) shows Mann at work making the film, gives us a feeling for the thirties era and via the lead actors we discover how meticulous Mann is in his attention to detail. Once again Bale and Depp give thoughts on their characters with Depp providing a personal slant on just how fascinated he was with Dillinger from an early age.
‘Last of the Legendary Outlaws’ (08:44 HD) shows plenty of the actual footage of Dillinger and shows off his cultural significance, or as Bale puts it ‘The dying breath of the Wild West’. This featurette offers up a nice mini history of bank robbery and it sits nicely with ‘Criminal Technology’ (09:39 HD), which highlights the Dillinger arsenal and just how much more advanced the criminals were compared to the frankly unorganised police forces of the time.
‘On Dillingers Trail: The Real Locations’ (09:48 HD) shows the locations used in re-creating 1934 and really demonstrates the many tiny details Mann uses to sell his vision.
Of course this is a Universal disc, so there’s plenty more to fiddle with. Along with your selectable ‘My Scenes’ there’s a ‘Gangster Movie Challenge’, which you can play and log your scores with. The U-Control comes with plenty of picture in picture videos that are in the same style of all of the previous featurettes and features cast and crew inputs. There’s a nifty time line pinpointing the big events which enable you to chapter skip to specific parts if you are so inclined. This also comes with some video sequences and historical facts around the events—so all in all it’s quite a good little add on to the usual static timelines.
I enjoyed Public Enemies but I can’t say that it is among my favourites of the year so far like many a critic has touted it. Mann once again proves he’s a master at what he does and Depp’s Dillinger is a fine lead character to follow through this detailed and convincing crime drama.
The transfer here is great for the most part with slight issues along the way (and your feelings on HD filmmaking are going to tip your opinion for or against it), while the audio is all over the place and if it wasn’t for the Mann shootouts winning me over I’d probably rant about it a little more. As for the features, while a little repetitive in places, I enjoyed pretty much all of them—so all in all, this is a pretty good package that fans should be pretty pleased with.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 2nd November 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 Spanish, DTS 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Extras: Commentary, Featurettes, U-Control, My Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 140 minutes
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