The first part of the summer film season has been relatively void of quality films aimed at older audiences, but that void is about to be filled with the arrival of “Public Enemies.”
With Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in front of the camera and Michael Mann behind it, here is a solid - not spectacular - film that should satisfy anyone looking to steer clear of those pesky Transformers.
Depp plays infamous bank robber John Dillinger at the height of his criminal escapades in the early 1930s. Dillinger’s Robin Hood-like exploits capture the imagination of the public and draw the ire of J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), who sets up a crime task headed by federal agent Melvin Purvis (Bale).
Dillinger appears to be on top of the world - a lavish lifestyle, public support despite his crimes, and a budding romance with a coat check girl named Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) - but it all comes crashing down when Purvis hires a crew of ex-Western lawmen who prove up to the task of stopping America’s No. 1 public enemy.
From his early days as executive producer of TV’s “Miami Vice,” to films like “Collateral” and “Heat,” Mann has shown an ability to create an interesting crime drama. He doesn’t fail here, capturing the era to perfection, but there is an almost distant feel to the material that makes the film more cold and calculated than one might expect.
Part of the problem could lie in Dillinger’s portrayal - not from Depp (who is his usual reliable self) - but from Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ana Biderman’s screenplay. The film centers more on Dillinger’s fall and his relationship with Freschette and less on his rise to criminal prominence. I would like to have seen more of Dillinger’s early days and maybe a little more from Bale as Purvis (more interaction between Depp and Bale would have been nice as well). I definitely could have handled less from Cotillard (in her first major role since her surprising Oscar win for “La Vie En Rose”).
When Dillinger is robbing banks and being chased by the feds, the film has some sizzle, but when the focus is on the romance, that sizzle fades.
There is still enough to make “Public Enemies” worth a look, but anyone expecting a potential Oscar contender might come away slightly disappointed.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is the 20th anniversary re-release of “Do the Right Thing” (A), Spike Lee’s gripping drama that is still one of the filmmaker’s best works.
“Do the Right Thing” follows escalating racial tensions on a hot summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, which culminates in a shocking act of violence.
Lee plays a pizza delivery boy named Mookie, who interacts with many of the neighborhood’s more prominent inhabitants - including Sal (Danny Aiello), the Italian pizzeria owner, and his two sons (John Turturro and Richard Edson); a wise older man known as Da Mayor (Ossie Davis); and a young man named Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito), who fuels the racial tension.
Lee has created one his most powerful works with “Do the Right Thing,” creating a fascinating study of a community that hooks the audience, then turning the tables with a final act by one character that still sparks debate two decades after the initial release.
There were a lot of great films in 1989, but it is still a head scratcher how this film failed to earn a Best Picture nomination (the five nominees were “Born on the Fourth of July,” “My Left Foot,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Dead Poets Society” and “Field of Dreams” - “Daisy” took the top prize). No offense to any of those films, each of which is very good, but none carries the same emotional impact and none has stood the test of time quite like “Do the Right Thing.”
“Do the Right Thing” is rated R for violence, language and some sexual situations and the 20th anniversary edition is now available on DVD.
— Micheal Compton is a sportswriter/movie reviewer for the Daily News. He can be reached at 783-3247 or at email@example.com.