Criminal Boredom

John Dillinger wanted poster
Image via Wikipedia

I like Michael Mann’s work.  I was (and am) a devoted fan of the Miami Vice show.  The Last of the Mohicans is one of my favorites and high in my movie quote rotation.  Manhunter, even though it differs quite a bit from the Harris novel Red Dragon, is superior to the generally more faithful Red Dragon with Edward Norton.  True, Miami Vice the movie was less than perfect but I kind of enjoyed it.  If you haven’t seen Collateral check it out.  It’s underrated and I think it might even be brilliant and you will totally buy Tom Cruise as a grey haired professional killer.

So I was expecting to enjoy Public Enemies.  I missed it in the theater and rented it the other day.  Michael Mann, Johnny Depp, Christian Bale…what could go wrong?  Well….

This movie wasn’t really about anything.  There were plenty of threads there that it could have been about but none of them were developed or even looked at.  A cursory glance at best and then events just sort of move on.  It could have been Dillinger’s story but we don’t really get anything from the character.  He has one scene where he talks easily with reporters at his mugshot but that’s the only glimpse of any kind of charm.  Neither is he a blood thirsty bandit, nor somehow driven to rob banks for a living, nor yet a professional robber who goes about it in a workmanlike manner.  He just does it.  We don’t even see that much of it.

It could have been about Melvin Purvis, the G-man trying to catch Dillinger but we don’t get a whole lot of his character either.  More than Dillinger for we at least get the idea he might be concerned about what kinds of methods he will have to resort to to get his man.  It never rises above concern though and it sure doesn’t slow him down.

It’s not a chase movie like The Fugitive, or Catch Me If You Can.  There’s a glimpse of how Hoover used the media to demonize Dillinger and his type and make interstate crime the FBI’s reason for being.  That would have been a pretty good movie there but blink and you’ll miss it.  It’s not about how the Italian mobs organized and turned away from the flashier and riskier shoot-em-ups of Dillinger’s gang either though thatwould have been a good movie too.  If you  think it’s a love story, think again.  There’s no romance.  Dillinger announces to Billi Frechette that she’s his girl and she has no say in it.  You know what else she doesn’t have?  Any real screen time or dialog.

In short, it was just a bunch of stuff that happened.  It didn’t flat out suck either which is the really frustrating thing (for me anyway).  All the elements of story were there.  They just weren’t developed.  It didn’t tell a story so much as record events.  I can watch that on the History Channel.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
About Eric Bahle

Eric Bahle stopped going to his real job so he could be a full time digital author and storyteller. He loves being in the woods with his bow or on the water in his kayak. He lives in Pennsylvania with his lovely wife and a mongrel dog. He is working on his next bestselling story.


  1. One scene that did seem to strive to show the reason Dillinger was robbing banks was where during a bank robbery, he told the working man to put his money away, that he was after the bank’s money, not his. It almost hinted at a Robin Hood-esque reason for his crime spree but never went any further with that idea. I have to say I am in agreement with you on this one. In my opinion, a frustrating movie overall.

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only Michael Mann aficionado who was disappointed with Public Enemies. The whole movie I kept waiting for the parts to somehow fully develop and they never did. It was totally worth less than the sum of its parts.

  3. Ah, the inescapable importance of story. “Things happening” is only interesting so far without a real narrative intent to hold it together.

  4. Agree … but would also add that it was obnoxious for its butchering of what really happened … machine gun fight during the Michigan City prison escape, gang being wiped out at Little Bohemia, Purvis shooting Pretty Boy Floyd before Dillinger was dead … and on and on and on of jazzing up or redoing a reality that didn’t need it. Was really looking forward to it and left the theater with a foul taste in my mouth!

    • I’ll cut Hollywood quite a bit of slack when it comes to ‘jazzing up’, but you’re quite right. A lot of the bad guys in the period were living Hollywood style lives already. So let the story tell itself.