I liked Collateral. I thought it was smart, well paced, gripping, tense, and genuinely strong as a movie. I’ve probably watched it a half-dozen times, at least twice with the director’s commentary, and I find myself being drawn in each time as if it was my first.
As such, I had high hopes for Public Enemies. Johnny Depp is usually compelling in the “scoundrel” role, Christian Bale is volatile and unpredictable (on and off the set), and the story is full of enough pitched submachine battles that it would at least be entertaining. Which it was. But sadly, that was all that Public Enemies was: entertaining.
I guess it’s too much to ask that most mainstream movies work hard to develop characters in a way that feels authentic and believable. It is much easier to put in more and more gunfights, a sex scene, and dramatic close-ups of very pretty people staring intensely into the middle distance. Those things look great in trailers when paired with a solid soundtrack/score (Public Enemies has both), but I don’t think they are enough to pull you through two hours of a movie on their own, even if everyone is devilishly handsome or breathtakingly beautiful.
For what it’s worth, here are three things that you could mention to Michael Mann if you happen to see him on the street. (And if you do, tell him I loved Collateral.)
- Being bossy and authoritative to women is not romantic. It’s abusive, even if it’s being done by Johnny Depp wearing a dapper hat. The same thing goes for beating people up in front of the woman to show that you own her and “Ain’t nobody gonna speak to you like that no more.”
- Know who you want the audience to like and who you want the audience to wish death upon. It’s fine to have a dashing villain and a dislikeable hero, but you can’t decide that your cop has become too grimy (beating people up for confessions, shooting others in cold blood) and then resurrect his inherent goodness by having him intervene only when a woman is about to get beaten to death. That just appears paternalistic and contrived, especially when he waits until she has taken a solid twelve hours of slap-around before stepping in.
- Casting Don Frye is great, but give him a speaking part at least. Don “The Predator” Frye was one of the true pioneers of Mixed Martial Arts, and while he cuts a terrifying figure in 30s-era suits and hats, he should at least be given the chance to growl out a few lines. Don’t believe me? Listen to his intro on the official Don Frye website here. It seems a real waste just to have him as a silent partner to the guy that plays the Colonel in Avatar.