Home > Film, Movie Project, Movie Reviews > Public Enemies are Unispiring Screenplays

Public Enemies are Unispiring Screenplays

Recently, studio releases have focused on the spectacle.  Bigger budgets, bigger names, bigger guns, bigger explosions, bigger screens, and longer run times.  If the movie doesn’t clock in at 2 ½ hours, don’t bother making it.  The recently unveiled Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (with 100% more racism than previous Michael Bay films!) clocked in at 2 ½ hours.  Even the best studio summer movie, Star Trek, ran just over 2 hours (127 minutes) and Terminator Salvation clocked in 5 minutes short at 115.  Studios set up summer movies as an event – you anticipate it, you plan a social outing far in advance, buy tickets early, and arrive at least 30 minutes early if you want a seat.  These movies are supposed to change your life, and you better treat them as such.  The same goes for the Michael Mann movie starring Christian Bale and Johnny Depp, Public Enemies, clocks in at 2 ½ hours.  The based-on-a-true-story depression era gangster film subscribes to the event movie recipe, with a slight tweak of being aimed at adults rather then the coveted teenage demographic.  But, like most event movies, Public Enemies forgot something vital – a story.  You can only clock in at 2 ½ hours if you have a story that can carry you 2 ½ hours.  This concept is something we all learn when you take your first creative writing class, and reiterated in every other creative writing class afterwards, if you only have enough material for 7 pages, you’re only writing 7 pages.  If you stretch those 7 pages into 21 pages, prepare to meet the red pen.

Michael Mann’s strength as a director comes from his unique visual style, a heightened reality of deep, rich colors.  He manages to make the confines of a state prison as visually striking as the skyline of Chicago or a massive beach shot.  You can never say his movies are visually boring.  And when paired with a great script, like The Insider, his movies are important movies that you watch, enjoy, and talk endlessly about.  But when you pair him with a sub-par script, you just get a pretty picture.  In Public Enemies, we just get a pretty picture (which is debatable, as the HD cameras seem to produce a few problems).  The movie is just to damn long.  The film haphazardly switches back-and-forth from Christian Bale’s battle between the new school crime solving methods and the old school of brute force; and the quick and flashy life of Johnny Depp’s charismatic criminal, John Dillinger.  The art department and set designers capture the feel of the early 1930’s, helping draw a sharp contrast between the lifestyle of the lower classes – especially immigrants and women – and the upper class.  The visual contrast in the sets – run down houses and clothing compared to the lavishly upscale restaurants full of people who stare, with disdain, at a women in a 3 dollar dress – help sell the idea of Dillinger as a modern day Robin Hood to the poor.  He even states at one point to a frightened bank patron: “I’m here for the banks money, not yours.”  This idea, however, exists only a few throw away lines in the film and never is explored outside of the set dressing.

It’s odd starts and abrupt endings of thematic ideas that cripple Public Enemies.  The interesting ideas, the birth of modern era forensics, the class differences and struggles, are thrown out.  Different elements for the characters to explore are thrown in every few minutes.  The writers never make any effort to tie them together and explore the overall theme of a rapidly changing world and how the people are affected and left behind; instead, they just let the ideas fall where they may and move onto the next one.  The writers broke the all-important maxim of Story Telling 101: if you have 7 pages of material, dammit, you write 7 pages.  The writers had 90 minutes of worthwhile material, stretched into 150 minutes of middling material.  Nothing makes the bladder heavier than waiting for an excruciating long movie to end.  I hope that the idea that an epic movie doesn’t require an epic length catches on, but with Transformers 2 (a worse film than this) netting the 2nd-biggest opening ever we might have a few more years left of this crap.

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