A Review of Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies”

Handsome Depp Gangster Flick Lacks Depth
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher

Johnny Depp (in a subdued cool swagger) is Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger, in director Michael Mann’s handsomely mounted but curiously distant riff on Depression Era Gangster Shenanigans.  Christian Bale is Melvin Purvis, the G-man hunting down Dillinger’s gang, but the cat-and-mouse game never reaches the boiling point some viewers will desire, resulting in a tepid film designed to make you think you have to admire it.

Lifting material from the true crime book by Bryan Burrough, the workmen-like script from Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman tries clumsily to weave in too many secondary characters while staying on point with the historical events.  There are some decent attempts to anchor the film with a love story between Dillinger and Billie Frechette (played by the French actress Marion Cotillard, who is wisely striking while the iron is hot in her first stateside role since her Oscar win), but there’s not much else in the realm of character development, and no one is given any backstory.  The writers start “in media res” to give it that classical epic structure, but it doesn’t work when you can’t even identify the peripheral characters from each other.  What results is a cavalcade of apparently great supporting turns from a large professional cast, everyone spot on with their period cadence and mannerisms but no one leaving any kind of lasting impression in the wake of the great turns from Depp and Cotillard, the only two in the cast given anything to work with.  There are also some missed opportunities to explore Dillinger’s Robin Hood mentality and the public infatuation with his “celebrity” — just two of the potentially great subtexts that are only given brief surface level treatments by the screenplay.

Cotillard makes a successful first stateside bid for stardom.

Cotillard makes a successful first bid for stateside stardom.

From a technical standpoint, there’s plenty to chew on here for thoughtful audiences.  Continue reading

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A Review of Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd”

Grim Musical OJ’s the Audience, 22 December 2007
7/10

Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Tim Burton’s gleefully macabre adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical smash hit “Sweeney Todd” is the strangest holiday season Oscar bait to come out of Hollywood…well, ever. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a fan of film musicals as they are inherently loud and full of paper-thin characters singing and dancing their way through horribly obvious and clichéd plots. However, every so often one comes along that I thoroughly enjoy, like “Chicago” with its hot-blooded dames committing cold-blooded murder during the roaring ’20’s. Here, bloody revenge is the topic, and Victorian London the setting. The stage was set for a bizarre juxtaposition of seemingly disparate genres: the over-the-top operetta and the over-the-top horror film. On both levels, “Sweeney Todd” delights and horrifies in equal measure.

The film starts awkwardly with foggy CGI set designs and off-key singing covering a clunky exposition about a barber wrongly imprisoned (for, well, I never caught why) and looking for revenge against the judge who drove his wife to suicide (allegedly) and kidnapped his daughter. The film moves slowly until Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”) shows up with a gin-swilling moppet in tow (Ed Sanders as Toby, the best singing orphan this side of “Oliver!”) adding a sense of color, humor, and heart to the film’s bleeding core. Once the killings start, the set designs and gore seem to take on a life of their own as Burton paints his vision on screen with the rare wanton abandon of an auteur with final cut.

It would be unfair for me to judge the music and the songs (they were adequately lively in my humble opinion), but the acting was far better than I expected. Johnny Depp was perfectly off-kilter in the lead role. His lack of expression during the “By the Sea” fantasy sequence was priceless. Meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter performed her third successful evolution as an actress. She was once the darling of the Merchant/Ivory costume drama, then the cult star of “Fight Club”, and now the Cockney-accented comic relief in the darkest movie musical ever made. I thought her facial expressions and timing where especially spot-on. I can’t think of another actress who has such distinct groups of rabid fans. Alan Rickman is effectively creepy in the villain role, while the two young stars playing the whatever-the-heck-his-name-is-pretty-boy and Johanna were appropriately annoying and dewy-eyed.

While the film goes through the requisite motions of an operetta, it succumbs to a fantastically grim and fitting conclusion that ultimately won over the audience. With more dark psychologically rich subtexts and better acting then you come to expect from a film musical, “Sweeney Todd” OJ’s its audience with cartoonish gore and spirited song and dance. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s bloody good fun.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0408236/usercomments-86