Aparte de dejar aquí esta muy buena crítica sobre la película de Michael Mann (yo, cada día más convencido que es una obra maestra), les recomiendo que le peguen una mirada a los "ensayos" en video que Matt hace para el Museum of the Moving Image y que incluyen un especial en cinco entregas sobre Michael Mann que pueden ver (y/o leer) aquí.
By Matt Zoller Seitz
"The only thing important is where somebody's going." That bit of existential wisdom comes from none other than John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), the soft-spoken, bank-jacking antihero of "Public Enemies," Michael Mann's latest epic about unhappy tough guys doing what they do best. It's offered by way of flirtation, as part of Dillinger's out-of-nowhere and all-out attempt to impress a gorgeous hat-check girl named Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) -- a pitch of woo so intense, and so divorced from what Billie considers realistic feeling, that it both unsettles and amuses her. "I'm catching up, meeting someone like you," he tells her. "Boy, you're in a hurry," she deadpans. "If you were looking at what I'm looking at," "Public Enemy" Number One informs her, "you'd be in a hurry, too."
On first viewing, I was inclined to call "Public Enemies" minor Mann, a characterization meant not as a putdown, but a simple summary. As anyone who's read me before well knows, I'm a student of the poetic-bombastic filmmaker, whose worst films are more visually arresting and artistically committed than almost any recent Oscar winner I can recall. His films often play like Samuel Fuller by way of Michelangelo Antonioni -- violent tone poems exploring the angst of machismo and the impossibility of deep and lasting connection by way of dreamy montage, hypnotic music and disorienting, off-center compositions. I'm hugely impressed by Mann's formal restlessness, his thematic consistency and his willingness to change up his game over time (moving from the Stanley Kubrick-level anal retentiveness of his work prior to 1999's "The Insider" to a more visually and dramatically loose aesthetic, much of it stemming from his recent conversion to high-definition video and mostly handheld camerawork).
That said, "Public Enemies" initially struck me as a signpost/stopgap feature along the lines of "Collateral," a Michael Mann 101 movie that compressed some of his signature tropes into easily graspable baubles, a work less interesting for its situations and set pieces than for the way in which it seemed to find its director taking stock of recent preoccupations and stylistic tics before moving on. (Conscious callbacks to prior Mann movies abound, such as the mirroring of obsessed cops and robbers, and gestures such as Dillinger somewhat gingerly laying his gun on a tabletop when he enters a hotel-room-as-domestic-sanctuary, and telling bank customers he's after the bank's money, not theirs -- all echoes of key moments in "Heat" and its TV movie inspiration, "L.A. Takedown.") The structure of Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman's script is episodic, patchy even. Judged against the norms of modern screenwriting convention, the film doesn't cover much ground; it's episodic in a manner faintly reminiscent of mid-period Oliver Stone (think "Born on the Fourth of July" or "The Doors," films that traded narrative-advancing montage for a spare assortment of protracted, often borderline real-time scenes).
And yet, in the two-plus weeks since I first saw "Public Enemies," it has lingered in my mind more vividly than almost any Hollywood film of the past couple of years -- and I'm convinced that its ostentatiously un-blockbustery tendencies are the source of the movie's vividness. While offering many of the core elements that the marketplace demands (including a badass antihero, a crime-and-violence storyline and a love story), "Public Enemies" gives those same elements short shrift, the better to concentrate on intense but largely unarticulated feelings and psychological states.
My friend Sean Burns, the Philadelphia Weekly film critic, recently noted that Mann's latest movie is a rare summer blockbuster without any establishing shots. That's not strictly accurate (Mann does offer a few sweeping shots of Chicago streets packed with gleaming black cars and the like), but it's true to the spirit of the movie, which is at once intimate and opaque. Like so many Mann movies, "Public Enemies" puts us as close to its main characters' bodies as it can while simultaneously and paradoxically maintaining a respectful, even borderline scientific, detachment. It luxuriates in the present tense, refusing to hang labels on anybody (Mann's heroes rush through backstory monologues and often seem faintly bored by having to provide them) and insisting that we project our personalities and concerns onto Dillinger, G-Man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and company.
Contemporary sentiment dismisses such an approach as shallow, flashy, even cold; I prefer to think of it as respectfully rigorous, a means of demanding imaginative involvement from moviegoers that tend to get pissy when movies don't tell them exactly what to think and feel. (It's no accident that one of Mann's signature shots is a close-up taken from just behind a character's ear, the rest of the widescreen frame filled by out-of-focus negative space. It's intimate yet also intentionally off-putting; it denies us a view of the character's face, thereby forcing us to guess what they're thinking and feeling.)
Despite a wealth of period detail and a few thematically apt timeline markers, such as the creation of the modern FBI (characterized here as a power grab by a then-young bureaucrat named J. Edgar Hoover, played by Billy Crudup as a power-hungry suit who uses PR the way Dillinger uses a Tommy gun), this is not the sweeping, “Godfather”-style historical epic promised in trailers and TV ads, nor is it a guns-a-blazin’ action picture. Though the shootout sequences are predictably loud, intense and immersive -- again, shades of “Heat” -- they take a back seat to scene after scene of Dillinger and his opposite, Purvis, just being. I can already hear the majority of viewers who were bored by Mann’s 2006 “Miami Vice” (one of my favorite movies from that year, and probably as close to a hazy-dreamy Wong Kar-wai movie as Hollywood is likely to get) griping that there’s too much talkin’, not enough shootin.’ I wouldn’t presume to claim that “Public Enemies” is as intricately wrought as say, “The Last of the Mohicans” or “Manhunter,” films in which every scene, line, shot and cut is deployed for a singular, clearly defined purpose. The FBI stuff in “Public Enemies,” for instance, is unsatisfying because -- except for Stephen Lang’s rough-hewn right-hand man, who gets the film’s book-closing final scene -- Purvis and the gang of Texas Rangers he brings in as muscle are pretty standard goons-squad cops, humorless brutes with T-square jaws that don’t have a tenth the inner life of Depp’s Dillinger. That might be Mann’s point, but he didn’t need a parallel narrative to make it.But perfection plus momentum isn’t Mann’s M.O. anymore and hasn’t been for years. He’s gotten looser and more meditative, delivering features that are blurrier than his early work (in the visual and plot sense), yet also more attuned to the fine points of the individual’s engagement with his own public image (a thread that pays off in a brilliant sequence in which Dillinger visits a police station and looks at the organizational chart on the FBI’s squad room wall). His recent films are more attentive to the moment-to-moment shifts in emotion between colleagues, lovers and friends and, above all else, more devoted to making every interaction, every moment of reflection, appear to be happening right now.
These inclinations may explain Mann’s total commitment to video. He’s virtually unique among A-list auteurs shooting in high-def in that not only does he not try to make it look like film, he goes out of his way to call attention to the fact that it’s video. Why? A theory: besides indicating a true artist's respect for the properties of the medium he’s chosen (painters don’t break their backs trying to make watercolor resemble oil paint), Mann is looking to amp up immediacy and shatter the usual subliminal reassurances that we’re watching a movie and it’s not “really” happening. Film is about things that happen to other people, usually people who are a lot richer and prettier than we are. Video is about what happens to us, at a birthday party or memorial service, in line at the bank, on the sidelines at a news event. The video-ness of the video in “Public Enemies” is discombobulating in a good way; when we look at all these handsome men and women in their period clothes, driving their period cars and speaking their period slang, we’re not seeing something that happened long ago, something safely removed from our own experience. It’s happening right now, live, right in front of us. Not many big summer films help us see familiar situations through fresh eyes. “Public Enemies” is one such movie: perhaps not minor Mann at all, but something major, a work that needs to be seen, absorbed and argued about more than once.