7.11.2009

Thoughts on Public Enemies

I saw Public Enemies last weekend, mostly because, as a Wisconsinite, I wanted to see how my native state was depicted in the film.

It wasn't a bad production - and it had its moments.  But overall, it didn't reach "great" status by any means.

My favorite part of the movie by far was the northwoods nighttime shoot-out and chase scene at Little Bohemia, a classic "Up North" lodge in northern Wisconsin.  It was fantastic, unsentimental, very pure - tommy guns, fedoras, giant pine trees, big fenders, and a rustic lodge in the middle of nowhere.

The banjo-influenced music that played as motif indicating yet another bank robbery was underway added a nice touch throughout the movie, but each robbery seemed too much like the last.

Dillinger's supposed Robinhood-like status with the common people was referred to and demonstrated at times, but it seemed largely unexplained, especially in the face of all the deaths he contributed to or caused directly.  The film lagged at points, too - perhaps reflecting the rolling, laidback uncertainty inherent in Dillinger's life - a strange sort of calm that arose from a desensitization to the everpresent tension and violence all around him.  There were too many half-explained characters as well.

Billie, Dillinger's part Menominee love interest, represented the most moving character in her mixed, but strong emotions, her attitude in the face of abuse, and her sense that life is a great river that can sweep you up and out of the eddies at any moment if you agree to run the rapids.

For someone who worked in the Wisconsin State Capitol building, it was neat to see J. Edgar Hoover ostensibly striding through the halls as if it were the U.S. Capitol, attending a committee hearing in what I knew to be the tomb-like North Hearing Room.

As one friend noted after the viewing, most movies make you empathize with the main character, no matter how unsavory, to the point that you feel you would almost like to be that character - or could see yourself being that character.  Not really the case in Public Enemies.  

There was no end game, really.  What was gained?  Perhaps a bit of freedom for a short time, but not much else.  But maybe that was supposed to be the point - that only in the turbulent uncertainty of a Johnny Depp-as-bank robber's life could one hope to taste, for just a few flickering moments, unadulterated love, wealth, and invincibility before it all came crashing down.