Posts Tagged ‘Christian Bale’

Review: Public Enemies

Monday, July 13th, 2009
Johnny Depp as John Dilinger

Johnny Depp as John Dillinger

Throughout 1933-1934, the United States fell under attack not to any foreign power, but to a host of notorious gangsters. For 18 months, these criminals wreaked havoc on cities throughout the country, robbing banks and killing dozens. The individuals responsible for such acts would become legends in American folklore: Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie & Clyde, and John Dillinger.

The film Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, gives us a glimpse into the lives of two men, both headed on a course that will lead them to inevitable confrontation and infamy. In one corner is the notorious John Dillinger (Depp), “Public Enemy Number One” – a thief and a murderer at the height of his career. In the other corner is Melvin Purvis (Bale), the FBI agent given the task of bringing Dillinger’s reign to an end.

For those already familiar with the historical accounts of Dillinger and his exploits, the events in the movie will come as no surprise. Ultimately, this is Dillinger’s story and so the film spends much of its time focused on his actions. But its attention to the events comes at the price of character development. Insights into the man behind the legend are just as interesting as the historical facts, but this film provides only a few glimpses into Dillinger’s humanity. When we do see those moments, they are compelling. We watch as he struggles with the realization that gangsters like him are finite and that more sophisticated crimes make his bank robbery methods obsolete.

In contrast to the recklessness and charm of Dillinger’s character is agent Melvin Purvis, the man in charge of the Chicago field office. Bale’s Purvis is a man with razor-sharp focus and unquenchable determination. Although Purvis is mostly one-dimensional, we are exposed to his imperfections. His impatience often leads to errors in judgment, which gives Dillinger opportunities to esacpe apprehension.

From a story perspective, Public Enemies is a solid gangster film, not lacking in the type of action one expects from the genre. Its focus, however, mainly centers on historical fact at the expense of well-rounded characters. From a technical standpoint, the movie falls short. The video shooting format was not handled well in some places. Although it did provide some nice deep depth-of-field compositions, some interiors were flat and underlit, and I couldn’t help but compare some action sequences to re-enactments one might see on TV documentaries. Good film, but it could have been incredible.

6 out of 10

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What I’m Watching: Rescue Dawn

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

rescue-dawnFor the record, Rescue Dawnis not a war movie. If you go in expecting heavy action, lots of gunplay, and large-scale battle sequences, you will be horribly disappointed. Rather, the film is about friendship, hope, and survival. It’s a character study. The pacing and method of storytelling is more like The Shawshank Redemption- short episodic sections that, when assembled together, form the overall narrative arc.

Christian Bale plays Dieter Dengler, a Navy pilot stationed on an aircraft carrier just off the coast of Laos in 1965. The story follows Dieter’s first mission, subsequent capture by the Vietnamese, and his life in a makeshift POW camp deep in the jungle. Director Werner Herzog made this film as a follow up to his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Flyin order to expound on more of the story and complete what Dengler himself saw as “unfinished business.”

The film itself is honest in its approach. It’s incredibly genuine and we feel as though we are watching actual events as they unfold. Bale’s dedication to the role is admirable and the investments he makes in his portrayal pay dividends in the final cut. Bale and the supporting cast of fellow POW’s (including Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies) succeed in developing a level of realism that fills in the for the lack of action and digital effects.

The biggest problem with Rescue Dawn is the fact that it has no real emotional impact. It fails to create a level of intensity that is to be expected from this type of story. At times the narrative seems content just to flow along slowly, like the lethargy of a meandering river. Therefore, it’s hard to connect with Bale’s character. You want to commit to the story 100%. You want to cheer for Dieter. But in the end you just sit back and say to yourself, “Whatever. If he makes it, he makes it.”

4 1/2 out of 10

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