Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Hurt Locker (****)

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow


War is a drug. So says a quote which scrolls before Kathryn Bigelow's latest film, The Hurt Locker. For just over two hours, the film will go on to explain that statement in grave, sometimes dangerous detail. The adrenaline of battle is just like any other kind of adrenaline, and even in matters of life and death, excitement is enough to keep you going. Day after day, people in war put themselves into possibly deadly situations, and what the film explores is how so many can do it without blinking, and how they become that way.

The film is centered on Bravo Company, a bomb squad unit which uses all sorts of technologies to diffuse complex bombs in the middle of the Iraq war. The war, as so many seem to forget, is fought on the streets of cities, and every mission is a possible dead zone. Each assignment is meticulous and time-consuming, and each brings an audience of at least a dozen Iraqi citizens wanting to peep on the show. The best in the business is Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), and he works quickly, efficiently, and sometimes recklessly.

James' two partners in Bravo company are the intelligent, but fearful Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Gerahgty) and the disciplined Sgt. JT Sanbourn (Anthony Mackie). Sanbourn and Eldridge know the dangers of their work, after seeing their former team leader (Guy Pearce in a small, but effective role) die when a bomb explodes in his face. Neither of them approve of their new team leader and his daredevil tactics, but both are left speechless as they watch James execute his assignments perfectly.

You see, just because James works rather hastily, it doesn't mean that he doesn't take his job seriously. He knows that what he does is dangerous, and whether or not he wears the appropriate protective gear or follows the appropriate disciplinary code, it doesn't make the situation any safer, so he rather do it his own way. The trio has only 38 days left before their tour is over, and the story unfolds as they continue to encounter numerous dangers, attackers, and elaborate explosives.

Bigelow's Locker is not so much a war film, as it is a character study wrapped in tension and explosions--both actual and psychological. The film is intentionally-paced, though never drags. Many scenes embrace stillness and silence effectively, and the movie as a whole perfectly showcases how extraterrestrial American troupes are in this strange, faraway land. Many films have explored how war has disparaged the lives of young soldiers, but few have shown how soldiers use the excitement of battle to get off, and Locker explores it better than any film I've ever seen.

No other woman has succeeded in the action film genre the way Kathryn Bigelow has. Her films Near Dark and Point Break have developed strong cult followings over the last couple of decades, but it has been quite a while since she's been as relevant as she is now. Locker premiered on the festival circuit in the fall of last year, but distribution problems pushed the film's release all the way till now. It has emerged slowly, and is now within wide release across the country. It is easily the best film about our current War on Terror, as well as the best film of 2009 so far, and though audiences haven't been large, the word of mouth is growing.

I can't remember seeing Jeremy Renner in any film (though IMDb says I must have seen him in North Country and The Assassination of Jesse James), but his performance within this film is beyond exceptional. This is a character who makes seemingly radical decisions, because he doesn't have the time to spend thinking, but still has the qualities to be efficient and successful. He's good at his job because he enjoys it, and Renner exhibits James' addiction to thrill perfectly. As James' main antagonist on the field, Anthony Mackie is the perfect foil for Renner, giving the film a much-needed sensible head.

In a time where most action films contain mindless dialogue, and cars turning into robots (or vice-versa), The Hurt Locker is an action film which dares to be intelligent and authentic. The film is written by former Army man Mark Boal, who also was behind the other Iraq-based film In The Valley of Elah. His dialogue seems incredibly natural and sincere, and combined with Bigelow's excellent use of hand-held, grimy photography, the audience is braced for an unidealized view of the horrific, and sometimes exciting hell of war.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Trailer Watch: An Education

An Education has been the trendy pick by many to be the small film of 2009 which possibly breaks the Best Picture industry circle. Granted, getting a Best Picture nomination almost seems automatic now that the Academy has stretched the shortlist to ten. That said, this newly released trailer clarifies things for most people (like me) who knew nothing about this movie other than Carey Mulligan (who plays he film's main character) was going to be a movie star once people actually got around to seeing it. With Hornby penning the screenplay, it is almost guaranteed to be charming, and it's star-studded cast makes it one of the more anticipated films of the fall.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (***)

Directed by David Yates


Can I correctly comment on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince without ever reading any of the books and ignoring all except one of the films (Sorcerer's Stone)? Probably not, but I'm going to anyway. With a franchise as immensely popular as Potter it is almost impossible to come across a part of the story without at least some of the context and back story, and even if you do, it certainly isn't very comprehensible or interesting. Luckily for me, Half-Blood Prince was a beautifully-made, wonderfully-told story that indulges in its own imagination to the fullest.

In this installment of the series, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is escorted back to Hogwarts by the ethereal Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), personally. Before they even return to the wizard's school, though, they visit a trashed and abandoned home, where they find Prof. Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) disguised as an armchair. A former Hogwart's teacher, Slughorn is now retired, but Dumbledore uses his wit and cleverness to convince him to return. Of coarse, the main reason Slughorn chooses to come back is because he wants an opportunity to work with "The Chosen One" Harry Potter.

Why does Dumbledore covet Slughorn's return so desperately? He feels that Slughorn may hold to the secret as to the evil Voldemort's nonstanding, amoral existence. Once upon a time, when Voldemort was just a student, he admired Prof. Slughorn, and Dumbledore supposes that there was a moment where Slughorn influenced the move to the dark side. Using Harry as the main grift, Dumbledore hopes to pierce Slughorn's iron shield, and possibly find the cause of Voldemort's seeming immortality.

On the way to Hogwart's, Harry is reunited with his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Ron, sporting a red mop-top hairdo, and Hermione, constantly countering her know-it-all attitude with her dainty & modest beauty, are always in a peripheral battle of the heart, never willing to admit their true feelings. Harry slips in and out of the drama, never feeling like much of a third wheel, because he has his eyes set on a beauty of his own: Ron's sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright).

There is quite a bit going on in Half-Blood Prince, which makes it rather hard to compartmentalize and summarize efficiently. The usual suspects appear, such as the melevolent Prof. Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the crazed Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), and the dark, but cowardly Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). They come in and out casually, and with such ease, that even someone who has never seen the films before (like me) is never left scratching their heads, pondering their apperances.

I became sufficiently sucked in by this film, and its story, even though I am not necessarily a fan of the franchise, or the genre for that matter. I'm not sure why, though I can say that I found the characters surprisingly empathetic and vibrant. Each person is fleshed out to the fullest, and never are we able to predict their behavior, but they never do things which seem off-course. Whether it's discovering the meaning of love, or debating the darkness of betrayal, they always seem to find answers to their problems that are organic to the story.

Surely, Radcliffe is the main force behind this film, but the main strength comes from two undeniably strong supporting performances. Jim Broadbent as the gregarious potion-maker Slughorn is a dream of humor and sincerity. Always a pleasure to watch on the screen, Broadbent takes a rather narrow character and turns him into a very sizable personality which steals almost every scene he appears in. Also, Michael Gambon as the wise, humored Dumbledore is great, with his rumbling voice always dispersing pearls to Harry and his other pupils.

I'm sure there were plenty of references and sub-plots that I would have understood better if I wasn't so completely ignorant of Potter, but I believe it's a testament to Half-Blood Prince that I greatly enjoyed myself, despite having little to no context.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Great Films: Hedwig and The Angry Inch (2001)

Written for the Screen and Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

In the late 90's, actor John Cameron Mitchell and his songwriting friend Stephen Trask combined to write the successful off-Broadway play Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The play, about a "slip of a girly boy" from East Germany, was an almost immediate audience favorite, and ran for two years. Consisting of mostly punk rock performances, and relatively few characters, Mitchell was mostly balked at when he suggested turing his performance into a feature film. That Mitchell was able to translate the energy, mania, and exuberance to the silver screen is truly a movie miracle.

When we are introduced to Hedwig (Mitchell reprising his stage role), she is standing in front of a small restaurant crowd holding two sides of an elaborate cape which reads: "Yankee Go Home! ... With Me!". From the opening shot, the film is erupting with punk rock music and abrasive energy, and we are immediately transported into Hedwig's world. She has taken her band, The Angry Inch, on a cross-country road trip to follow her ex-boyfriend/bandmate Tommy Gnosis (a young Michael Pitt), who has stolen all of her songs and has used them to become huge pop star.

So, while Tommy is filling out Busch stadium, Hedwig is across the street performing in front of a buffet and a hostile audience. Hedwig will refuse to admit that she's actually stalking Tommy, though it's her quixotic journey to come face-to-face with the man who stole from her that drives the plot as a whole. As they continue to perform, Hedwig is able to tell her life story, and we flashback to when she was just a young East German homosexual boy named Hansel with little-to-no identity. He meets an American Army general who offers to marry him so he can move out of Communist reign.

Hansel's mother, Hedwig, tells him to take her passport and her name, and that he will be able to use that to pass off as a woman and become married. One drawback, unless Hansel gets an official sex change, he can never really prove he's a woman, and therefore cannot leave to America. He reluctantly goes through with the procedure, which is botched, and leaves him nothing but his "angry inch". The new Hedwig makes it to America, but is quickly abandoned by the Army general, and out of his dismay, he falls back into his love for music, and becomes a self-proclaimed "internationally-ignored punk rock star of stage and screen".

Written, directed, and starring Mitchell, he is in many ways the sole force behind the greatness of this film. What separates his work in Hedwig from other high-profile drag performances (like say Nathan Lane in The Birdcage or Hugo Weaving in Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert), is that this is not a man recreating the aura of drag queen performance, this is a drag queen performance, and Mitchell takes that aspect of the film just as seriously as Hedwig the character does. We never feel uncomfortable watching Mitchell as a "woman", because he's completely comfortable in the skin of Hedwig, and is even (dare I say it?) a pretty hot woman.

The film genre of musicals have fallen greatly within recent decades. Along with the Western, the genre has failed vehemently to connect with younger generations, mostly because it is a rather stubborn niche which rarely evolves. Hedwig is rather revolutionary because of how it tweaks the movie-musical, while still pandering to most of its sensibilities. Sure, the songs are not actually within the storyline (they are all heard as live performances, in front of audiences), but it is hard not to call this film a musical, because songs compound the film from beginning to end.

Much credit must be given to Mitchell's songwriting partner Steven Trask who wrote all of the music and lyrics for the play and the film. Songs like "The Origin of Love", "Midnight Radio" and the various versions of "Wicked Little Town" sprawl with epic poetry, while "Exquisite Corpse" and the Hedwig monologue song "Angry Inch" are exploding with punk rock chords. "Sugar Daddy" introduces humorous country sensibilities, creating great irony considering the song's subject matter, and the rather large-scale production piece "Wig in a Box" sparks with stage sense, and reminds the audience that this is, in fact, a musical.

I've always said that I'm a sucker for a film with good music, even if it's mediocre. Hedwig and the Angry certainly is not mediocre, but the music supports the storyline so well, that it is only a plus that the songs are exquisite. It sparkles much like a great pop song, eclipsing levels of morality and sexual orientation with its buoyant energy, and did it all without shying away from its transgressive themes. Way before Brokeback Mountain and Milk were so comfortable with their open homosexuality, Hedwig and the Angry Inch waved its freak-flag proudly, and even had the gaul to be sunny about it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Trailer Watch: Brothers

I don't know what kind of deal Jim Sheridan has with U2 that he must involve one of their songs in every one of his movies, but that's besides the point. I've been waiting for this film for a while (it's a holdover from last year), and now that the trailer has emerged, I'm rather surprised by the level of volatility. Sheridan is known for his hard-hitting, acting-centric films, and I certainly like all of the actors in this one. I still think it's a film to get excited about.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Brüno (***)

Directed by Larry Charles


I don't believe I've ever seen an R-rated film get away with as much as the film Brüno has just gotten away with. When you consider that this same director-star tandem had earlier collaborated on the equally-abrasive Borat in 2006, it's hard to walk into Brüno without at least some sense of the depravity you may be witnessing. Alas, they manage to somehow shock us once again, by creating a film that is equal parts exhibitionism with a social agenda and a work of bad taste that would have made Jon Waters proud.

Bruno (the mind behind it all: Sacha Baron Cohen) is a fantastically gay, Austrian fashionista who works for "the most important fashion TV station in all German-speaking countries--excluding Germany". His "in or out" judgments are usually a rather authoritative accommodation in the Austrian fashion world, and his ego is so massive that he even has an assistant for his assistant. Frequently equipped with extravagant clothing and a bleached anus, Bruno is the most extreme example of a fashion diva.

Things go horribly wrong when he shows up at a fashion show sporting his brand new outfit which is made entirely out of Velcro. In the middle of an interview, he begins getting stuck to all of the outfits, and the debacle ends with him spilled upon the catwalk, with more than 20 pieces of clothing attached to his body. After the incident, Bruno is blacklisted from all fashion shows, and soon fired from his position on television. What is Bruno to do? For him, the answer is simple: move to America and become a superstar celebrity.

Accompanied by his mousy assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), Bruno heads to Los Angeles and meets with agents and various others in hope of becoming famous. At first, he thinks his über-homoerotic television stylings will get him a show gig, but that is quickly dismissed. After that, Bruno attempts many different portals into the world of celebrity including adopting a black baby (he swaps it for an iPod), trying to solve a world crisis, and even ponders the possibility of maybe turning straight.

Sure, what makes Brüno so interesting is its utter fearlessness. Within twenty minutes, the audience is already put through certain gay sex acts you never thought were possible. The main question you usually have to ask yourself with a film like Brüno is this: is the shock there for purpose or for laughs? For Baron Cohen's sake, I hope its for the laughs, because I don't see what social message can be made from watching a man pour champaign out of his boyfriend's ass.

The film has been criticized for exploiting gay stereotypes, and I believe that's fair. I will say this though, I don't feel nearly as bad for the gay community as I do for the poor subjects who fall victims to Bruno's acts. As with Borat, part of the excitement is wondering whether or not they're in on the joke. Whether it's Paula Abdul refusing to eat sushi off of a naked Mexican man, or Ron Paul rejecting participation in a sex tape, it's usually more fun to watch Baren Cohen's plans become disintegrated as opposed to see someone who is a good sport.

In his two films, Baren Cohen has used very simplistic, foreign caricatures to take a long, probing finger and poke away at American sensibilities. In Borat, a sexist middle-Eastern man presented the bare truth of gun-toting, God-complexed red staters who confuse America with the city upon a hill. This time, Baren Cohen is going after pop culture, and the over-eager quests so many talentless people will go through in order to become famous. Baren Cohen presents rather shocking, occasionally obscene gay images in front of people, and their reactions display perfectly why something like Prop. 8 can exist in this day and age.

There are some serious issues with sexual repression in America, though I'm not sure Brüno is the answer that we need. Baron Cohen is a master of deviance, and the dangerous situations in which he places himself in for the sake of a laugh is rather alerting. I can understand why homosexual leaders are upset with the film, though it's hard not to laugh at some of the antics. Even the most conservative kinds of people will probably find themselves giggling from time to time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Moon (***1/2)

Directed by Duncan Jones


Duncan Jones may be the next big name in films, and I'm not just biased because his father is Ziggy Stardust. His first feature, Moon is a film which is nearly impossible to pull off, and even harder to market. A rather pigeon-holed plot and a severely limited number of characters presents a rather alarming movie concept to most people, but somehow Jones, along with his leading man Sam Rockwell, create a clever, tense, and beautiful film.

In an unknown future, Earth is now using solar energy taken by a technological space station on the far side of the moon. The station is run by a pleasantly helpful robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), but all of the dirty work is done by a man named Sam Bell (Rockwell). Sam has signed a 3-year contract to be the maintenance man for GERTY, and he fulfill that contract by living on the moon, alone, with little to do but carve building models and play table tennis against himself.

Doing a standard keep-up job within his space rover outside the base, Sam sees visions on the surface of the moon, which distract him and cause him to get into an accident. He wakes up inside the base, GERTY standing over him and nursing him back to health. As his perception begins to crystallize, he begins to notice strange things, begins building mistrust toward GERTY, and makes a discovery so vital and shocking, I shouldn't disclose it here.

Much of this film's plot sits upon a twist that happens only a third of the way through the film. I'm not someone who necessarily believes in the concept of a spoiler, but I surely don't feel that this would be the appropriate platform to divulge certain details. More or less, this story shift has little to do with this film's greatness, because that credit should go toward the talent of Jones and Rockwell, who allow this story to unfold so organically and wonderfully that we are completely stimulated throughout the film, even at times when we're not very much sure what is going on.

On such a small scale (the film has only one fully-realized character, and two set pieces), it is surprising how lushly the film is executed. With the help of cinematographer Gary Shaw, the way Jones recreates this quasi-moon atmosphere is spectacular. With a beautiful set piece, ringing loud homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film's polished look brings out the best in its story. The film's time-table is one of its biggest mysteries, but we are never too worried about it, because we feel secure with the surroundings.

It's great to see a film which utilizes real suspense, as opposed to the manufactured kind which plagues most Hollywood films these days. Jones presents a more Hitchcockian style, building the anxiety throughout, further emphasizing Sam's isolation in space. Despite Sam's casualness with his work, it always seems like what he's doing can be extremely dangerous (one cracked helmet, and he's done for). Particularly, the ending is exquisitely excuted with great excitement.

Sam Rockwell always seems to find ways to be brilliant in various efforts. Last year, his performance within the supremely transgressive Choke was spectacular, and the year before, his troubled divorcee in Snow Angels was the most under appreciated thing in the movies that year. It's a shame that he is seldom recognized for his talent, though based on the roles that he chooses, he doesn't seem to be the kind of actor who cares about extraneous accommodations, but just getting the job done. As the sole force of Moon, Rockwell continues this trend, and hopefully his performance does not get swallowed like all of the others.

The biggest complaint one can make about Moon, I feel, is it's lack of purpose (truthfully, this is usually the biggest fault of most feature debuts). Humor finds its way into the story on a frequent basis without sacrificing the tension, but it's rather hard to sit in the theater and think about why exactly this story is so special. All that said, Moon is a wonderful blend of a forceful science fiction and surgical character study, and is the best debut film I've seen so far this year.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Post No. 200

Maybe Aldous Snow can help us all get into the mood for my 200th Blog Post...

Whatever Works (***)

Written and Directed by Woody Allen


Within the span of Woody Allen's long and prolific career, he has surely recycled some themes about love and life. He has some very devout opinions about the way humanity carries itself and those strong beliefs weave themselves into his screenplays and fall out of the mouths of his more wise characters. Surely, his ideas about religion and morality have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and the manner in which he discusses the unpredictable nature of love has given him some detractors (particularly given his very public and controversial personal life). Over the last few years, Woody and his films have become caricatures of themselves, but somehow Whatever Works manages to escape that, and while the same system is still in place, there is quite a freshness in the characters.

The film is about Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David), who was at one time a prospective Nobel Prize nominee, and brilliant metaphysicist. These days, his neuroticism has left him mostly friendless, terrified of death, and has alienated his wife, who divorces him after he tries to commit suicide by jumping out of the window of their downtown New York apartment (he survives because he landed on a canopy). The only friends that he does have become quickly unenthused by his constant negativity and condescending attitude.

When Boris is coming home one day, he finds a young girl laying in trash outside of the door of his apartment. She is Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a very young and very naive Southerner who hopes that she can stay with Boris since she has nowhere else to go. Begrudgingly, Boris allows her to stay, and is quickly forwarding his dark life theory upon her. Mistaking his ponitification for wisdom, Melody grows close to Boris, even though she is more than four decades younger than he is, and even through his rough exterior, Boris begins to find charm in Melody as well.

Their unorthodox relationship becomes even more complicated when Melody's mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) shows up. Her husband, Melody's father, has left her for her best friend, and now she too has nowhere to go. She stays with Boris and Melody, even though her contempt with Boris grows quickly. Marietta quickly becomes untangled by the New York City lifestyle, and goes from her pious self, to a promiscuous photographer who sleeps with two men simultaneously. The only thing that doesn't change for Marietta, is her hatred for Boris.

Other zany things occur: such as a young English actor (Henry Cavill) who becomes smitten with Melody and hopes to lure her from Boris, and John (Ed Begley Jr.), Melody's meddling, God-fearing father who comes to New York City hoping to find redemption. The plot lines unfold into all sorts of preposterous, but we are never really questioning any of it, because the film begins with Boris ignoring reality to talk directly to the audience. Its own self-awareness prevents any trouble we may have suspending disbelief.

On paper, the match up of Woody Allen and Larry David seems like perfection. Woody has spent forty years creating the very character that David has perfected on his television show Curb Your Enthusiasm. It does not go as smoothly as many may hope, David takes Woody's disagreeableness and turns it into pure aggression, but all that said, David is one of the more formidable Woody surrogates of the last few years. Of course, addressing the audience and a negative world-view are both Woody staples, so David has many references to look toward.

The main attraction within this film, though, is Wood and Clarkson. As two formerly-ethical Mississipeans swayed into the swinging life of New York City, the two gifted actresses bring enough sweetness and sincerity to make the tranformation seem so much less contrived than it actually is. Wood, a very exciting young actress known mostly for darker films like Thirteen and The Wrestler has a whole lot of fun in this role, allowing Melody to continue possessing her innocence even through her evolution. For Clarkson, we have another in a litany of exceptional work.

It will be very easy to watch Whatever Works and see that Woody has become stunted in his storytelling. It comes as no surprise that the film's screenplay was actually composed in the 70's before Annie Hall. It still possesses that quasi aspect of his films from that time: containing characters that seem isolated within a priveleged world within upper-class New York City. I do not fault Woody for going back to the well, particularly because I didn't care for either of his European films Match Point or Vicky Cristina Barcelona. There is only one reason why Whatever Works works, and that is because the comedy is sincere and, best of all, funny.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Public Enemies (***1/2)

Directed by Michael Mann


Public Enemies may be one of the most revolutionary gangster films ever made. Or it may not be. I don't think the film, or its filmmakers, care either way. Michael Mann, the best stylist behind the camera, continues to work his magic with his latest film; something a little more modest in terms of thematic ideals, but overtly ambitious in terms of its visuals. One of the first great films of 2009, Public Enemies decidedly sucks in its audience with its suave abrasiveness and melts you away with its stunning beauty.

John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) robs banks--very matter-of-factually. He has the supreme confidence that any criminal of his stature should possess; by which I mean, he knows he will never get caught, because those who do get caught aren't nearly as organized as he is. Along with his partner 'Red' Hamilton (Jason Clarke), Dillinger famously weaves himself in and out of banks, sometimes in less than two minutes. The newspapers of the early years of the Great Depression frequently had his picture on the cover, and he developed quite a celebrity.

The public created a Robin Hood mystique about him, since he infamously would not take the money of innocent bystanders, just the bank's cash (but who's money was in the bank? the public didn't care much for that question). Dillinger very much relished the fame, and hubris could be seen as one of his major flaws--the other being overbearing loyalty. When he meets a French coat check girl named Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), his infatuation becomes manic, and he swears to always take care of her no matter what.

With his girl, his gang, and his money, Dillinger had it all in the early '30s, and his seemingly unstoppable operation infurated the Washington beauricrats, particularly FBI head J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). Hoover, always the oppotunist, creates a specific task force to take down Dillinger, and he appoints good ol' boy Melvin Pervis (Christian Bale) to head the man-hunt. An intense search, which leads up to an inevitable end at the Biograph, pulsates with tension and energy in a way that only Michael Mann can do it.

The anticipation for this film has been enormous, many presuming that this may be Michael Mann's home run film. I don't think this film possesses the spectacular blend of cinematic characterization and watershed filmmaking the way films like Heat or Collateral did. All that said, Public Enemies is certainly Mann's most ambitious endeavor: a period piece with cold distance from its atmosphere that nonetheless contains an attention to detail that never allows you to deny its authenticity.

In a way that may put off many theatrical purists, Mann tells the classic gangster story differently from the way anybody has ever done it before. He doesn't bother diving into the psychology of Dillinger. At one moment, Dillinger spills out his life story to Billie in about a minute, and caps it off by asking her, "What else do you need to know?". As an audience, it is occasionally frustrating that Mann points this question directly at us, and leaves us in the cold, never truly letting us into the lives, but just allowing the actions to speak for themselves.

When Martin Scorsese made Goodfellas in 1990, he transformed the gangster genre by incorporating a breezy editing style and a comfortable window into the crime world that was never allowed during the crime pictures of the Production Code. Public Enemies is attempting a similar transformation, only this time, he's going in the opposite direction. Dillinger and Pervis do the things that they do because that is their jobs, and much in the fashion of Mann's film Heat, the film illustrates how neither would exist without the other. There is no such thing as good if there is no such thing as evil.

Despite the lack of characterization, the performances certainly are not mediocre. Depp, a certified movie star, portrays Dillinger appropriately, allowing the nonchalance and gregariousness shine through the soft-hearted man inside. Bale plays Pervis with a tortured conservatism. With a character with such a one-track mind as Pervis, it's hard to portray the damage inside, but Bale's talent is good enough to make him amiable. As Dillinger's loyal girl, the stunning Cotillard portrays Billie with much grace and assertiveness.

I wouldn't call this Michael Mann's home run. It is certainly an astounding piece of filmmaking, possessing enough of Mann's visual motifs that blow you away. With the help of cinematographer Dante Spinotti, he has created the best-looking film of the last few years, and while many will bemoan its chilly persona, it's rather difficult to dismiss its beautiful austerity.