Saturday, July 4, 2009

Jason watches PUBLIC ENEMIES

And it was...okay, I guess. Actually, I'm a little torn.

On the good side, the acting was great, especially (0f course) Johnny Depp as John Dillinger. And the story moves along briskly and is entertaining.

I will punt on the moral question of making a movie that celebrates a criminal (and a psychotic killer, too). Hollywood has made gangster movies for a long time, and despite the band-aid of comeuppance, they've had a history of romanticizing criminals. This is another one, and intentionally so. Or maybe not.

I think that's the thing that bugs me. I can go all-in with romanticizing a bad guy, even a very bad guy. And I can be on board with villainizing a villain, of course. And I can definitely go along with playing with the "grey areas" of morality. But I had no idea what this movie was trying to do. There were scenes where Dillinger was definitely a romantic hero--nearly all the scenes with Marion Cottilard as Billie Frechette, the scenes where he refused to rob bank customers money insisting he's only there for the bank's money, etc. And there are scenes where he's a psycho and you shouldn't root for him. And there was the fact that his downfall was played up as just as much about displeasing the mafia as running being caught by the FBI. I was left not knowing if I was supposed to root for him, against him, or be ambivalent (again, I'm not against ambivalence. In fact, I'm a big fan of moral ambivalence, I just didn't know if this film was).

Ultimately, I was bored enough by the story that I payed more attention to the cinematography, and Michael Mann's embracing of the "dirty" aspects of the digital video aesthetic. For the most part, the DV "revolution" in Hollywood has been about the cheapness and ease of making movies. A few big filmmakers (e.g. Mike Figgis with TIMECODE) have played with the expanded limits of the technology. Others (David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE) have embraced the alternate "beauty" of the medium (I only use the word beauty because Lynch did in talking about INLAND EMPIRE). For the most part, big name DV filmmakers (e.g., Robert Rodriguez) have done what they can to mask the different looks between DV and film (e.g., ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO) or made movies that were so effects driven that film vs. DV wouldn't make a bit of difference after post-processing (e.g., SIN CITY). But Michael Mann might be the most interesting DV filmmaker, after COLLATERAL and PUBLIC ENEMIES, in terms of making movies that embrace the dirtier aspects of DV but still tell a fairly straightforward Hollywood style story. And that might just be the future of film. Or they'll make DV look more and more like film, and these movies will be interesting footnotes. Either way, at the moment he's standing in an interesting place in movie history.

No comments: