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In Movies & TV Reviews

Johnny Depp is beautiful, charming, fun and funny as John Dillinger.

Metcalf's Screening Room: "Public Enemies"


Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."

In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with Milwaukee Film, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including the comedy Web site, comicwonder.com.

He also finds time to write about movies for OnMilwaukee.com. In this month's installment of the Screening Room, Mark looks at a new film with a lot of local interest -- "Public Enemies" -- which was filmed in Wisconsin.

PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009)

This is crime as sporting event. Both the good guys and the bad guys are professionals. The bad guys really care for their guns, they have a lot of them, they plan well, and things only go wrong when ego or personality get out of hand and in the way. Lack of professional discipline. The good guys are technologically advanced, dedicated, also are careful with their weapons, work as a team and make mistakes only when temper or emotion catches them and carries them away.

But, the good guys are a little cold and distant. The bad guys are more fun. They like to dance, drink, hang out with women and they are nice to their women, even the prostitutes. We like the bad guys better than we like the good guys. Everybody does. That's why Johnny Depp is playing the main bad guy. And besides, the top good guy, J. Edgar Hoover, is a cross-dresser. He's weird, manipulative and ruthless. Both good guys and bad guys are brutal and they both feel badly about it for moments, except for Hoover. But, they get over it pretty quickly.

Sound familiar? I think I've seen this formula a few hundred times. But sometimes it works. Let's go on ...

The story of the film comes down to the single-minded pursuit, by Melvin Purvis of the F.B.I., after John Dillinger, who gained rock-star fame as America's Public Enemy No. 1.

The G-Man (government agent to those not raised in the 1950s or '60s) is played by Christian Bale, who was once a promising young actor until he started experimenting with placing his voice in various parts of his throat to the point where it sounds like it belongs to someone else. It is the worst in "The Dark Knight," but here, with the added baggage of a generic accent from somewhere-in-the-west-to-Midwestern-United-States, it really strips him of all credibility or interest. Plus, he took a back seat to Heath Ledger in that other film and seems not content, but resigned to taking a back seat to Depp in this one.

Depp is Depp; beautiful and charming, fun and funny. He wears the clothes well and the accent seems to fit him. He's done his research as an actor and he also knows he's a movie star, takes responsibility for that, and for the fact that he is in a movie star-driven vehicle. I think Depp is a French clown kind of actor, always aware, and making us aware, of the fact that he is acting marvelously, and that life is, yes, full of suffering and woe, but as long as we are here together it can be grand and the wine will be excellent.

It's the Bears vs. the Packers. It has just about the intellectual depth of a football game.

Michael Mann makes testosterone-driven movies. The female presence in most of his films is decorative at best. They are beautiful, seductive, fun objects that the primary character, a man, sacrifices almost everything, in the case of "Public Enemies," literally life itself, to have.

Marion Cotillard, the French actress who was so phenomenal as Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose," plays Billie Frechette, "It's French, with an 'e' at the end." Her accent wanders around a little too much here. Her father in the film was French, but she was raised on the reservation where her mother, a Mohawk Indian, lived. That doesn't quite explain the aimlessness of the accent. She's a wonderful actress -- not exactly pretty, but strikingly beautiful, vulnerable, smart and able to find her own strength and stand by herself. She would be worth coming back to Chicago for, even if everyone in the country was looking to hang you, but Michael Mann really doesn't deliver that moment. Your ears are still ringing with the excessive gunfire and he isn't able to bring you back to the intimacy necessary to hold the kind of love and vulnerability that Cotillard offers.

My mother would have called this film a "good shoot 'em up." It's cowboys and Indians, gangsters and G-Men, good versus evil with no real evil except complacency.

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Theaters and showtimes for Public Enemies
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Talkbacks

are-gee | July 9, 2009 at 3:46 p.m. (report)

Excuse me, but isn't the whole first page about the movie?

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High_Life_Man | July 3, 2009 at 1:53 p.m. (report)

It's Mann.

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BrGaribaldi | July 2, 2009 at 3:25 p.m. (report)

Is this supposed to be a movie review? He's got some bios on the actors and director and J.Edgar Hoover, there's some generic comments about gangster movies, and then a page of commentary on the politics of getting movies produced in the midwest. There's nothing in this article that even makes me believe he actually saw the movie.

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brewcitypaul | July 2, 2009 at 1:42 p.m. (report)

I loved the movie and saw the premier last night at the Oriental. They had a classic car club there with gangsta style old school cars there. It was a great feel. I was a little disappointed not being able to tell which scenes were filmed in WI. I went down to Prospect when they did some filming but couldn't pinpoint what scenes were where. But a great movie nonetheless

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