I saw Michael Mann's Public Enemies last night, and despite my enthusiasm for the actors involved and the subject matter, I left sorely disappointed. I have a very high tolerance for terrible films - I list Batman & Robin, Leprechaun 4: In Space, and Viva Kineval as three of my all-time favorites - but Mann's picture was so routine, so pedestrian, so damn boring that I couldn't even find joy in making fun of it. The only moments that even threatened to pull me in were when two Wire alumni showed up. They were, like all other actors in the film, wasted. It's sad when Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, two of the finest actors of this generation, are allowed to drift through a film. The truth is, though, that the roles of Dillinger and Purvis were written so generically that any two actors could have played them. There was nothing in the script designed to utilize the special talents of either Depp or Bale. It seems that the casting department was motivated more by what might look good on a poster than by what might work well in the picture. The supporting cast fares no better, with Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard coming out the worst of the bunch. The French accent she uses for the Wisconsin-born Billie Frechette is especially grating. Only Billy Crudup's performance as J. Edgar Hoover is worth seeing, although Mann's script paints the complex Hoover in such broad strokes that he might as well have just animated him and been done with it.
What really kills the film for me though is its haphazard structure. A film that moves in such strict chronological order should not be this hard to follow. There is no story that ever really comes together though, nor does any arc for the characters ever emerge. They just jump from scene to scene, with no one event having any real impact on the following events. There isn't any cohesive flow in the film, and I don't know whether to blame that on poor writing or poor editing. I have a sneaking suspicion that about an hour's worth of story was left on the cutting room floor. It's the only way I can imagine this project ever making sense.
And there mistakes, simple mistakes that should have been spotted and corrected. There is no reason why all the cars in Indiana should have Wisconsin license plates. There is no excuse for having a poorly CGI-ed propeller-driven plane with no propellers. I suppose there is the remote possibility that it's all intentional, that Mann decided to make an incredibly experimental film and dress it up as a blockbuster, but I doubt it. The greater - and sadder - likelihood is that the production team was just plain sloppy. This is the Windows Vista of summer blockbusters.
Poorly written, poorly edited, poorly acted, and poorly directed, Public Enemies is the most disappointing film I've seen in a very long time.