March 1, 2010

Justify My Netflix: Public Enemies

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Public Enemies

Today's movie: Public Enemies, 2009 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the latest by the usually very popular Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider, Miami Vice), a beautifully photographed saga about Great Depression gangsters with the dreamy Johnny Depp (as a low-key Dillinger) leading an all-star cast; yet with all this going for it, it still freaking tanked at the box office last year, and I've always been curious as to why this is.

The reality: Exactly what you would expect from a gorgeous, high-budget biopic from Michael Mann and Johnny Depp; but brother, I now intimately understand why this film was greeted with a collective "meh" by American audiences. And that's because, just like James Cameron's Avatar, Mann uses this deceptively nostalgic milieu to instead metaphorically make a very contemporary political point, using an overstepping FBI and their stormtrooper tactics under Hoover to essentially criticize modern torture-happy US soldiers in Iraq, even to the extent of deliberately pointing out at the end that actual Chicago agency head Melvin Purvis (played here by an especially tight-lipped Christian Bale) eventually killed himself in real life, heavily implying that it was because he could no longer live with the ethical crimes he was guilty of during his time with the Bureau. All of this may be true (and by the way, it is), but it's certainly not going to sit well with a teabagger audience that already feels like it's under constant attack by a f-ggoty liberal Hollywood these days; now combine this with an extra-slow script and a sometimes queasy verite style, and you can easily see why this theoretical blockbuster in reality barely broke even. That said, if you don't mind hearing some harsh things being said about cops and soldiers, it's a great epic that comes highly recommended.

Strangest piece of trivia: The death scene at the Biograph Theatre was shot in front of the actual Biograph Theatre here in Chicago, just two miles south of my own apartment; instead of using CGI, the producers actually redressed all the buildings on that block, most of which after all were still standing back in the actual 1930s when this takes place.

Worth your time? If you're okay with a surprisingly harsh anti-cop message, then yes; if you're a teabagger, no

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:27 AM, March 1, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |