First, to give this move a proper review I have to separate into a few different people.
Gun Nut Review: Public Enemies was friggin’ awesome in every way. Very seldom do we get treated to BAR action. Sure, you get some Thompsons in movies, but almost never BARs, and you can count on one hand how many times you’ve got a flick with Remington Model 8s, .351 Winchesters, Winchester Model 12s, 1897s, Military Springfields, sporterized Springfields, and all manner of period goodness.
Then the gun fights… Everybody knows that Michael Mann is about the only director in Hollywood that strives for absolute reality in his gunfights. He gave us the epic bank robbery in Heat. I’ve actually seen top of the line firearms instructors use the Hey Homie Is That My Briefcase scene from Collateral in classes. There were even some great gun bits in Miami Vice. And I think that Public Enemies is right up there.
When he dies… man, the shot that does in Dillinger was perfection, pure artistry written in violence. (oh crap, I didn’t say spoiler alert… but if you didn’t pay any attention in at all in school, you deserve to have your movie ruined… Yeah… Passion of the Christ, Jesus totally gets crucified in that one)
Michael Mann Fan Review: He’s the only guy that can use shaky cam the entire movie and not piss me off. I’ve heard some critics complaining about the use of digital, and how it takes them out of the movie… Shut up. Michael Mann could draw stick figures with crayons and then flip the pages real fast in front of the camera, and he’d still make a better movie than most of the imbeciles who make movies. Some critics have complained about the grit. Personally I like the feel. It puts you there. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching a Hollywood polished thing with Michael Mann, you feel like you’re on the streets of Chicago, or watching a coyote skulk across an LA road in the middle of the night, or that Crocket and Tubbs ain’t screwing around and will blow up some Cubans.
Someone else said that there was no character growth or development. Listen, you don’t watch a Michael Mann movie for character development. He tells stories about people who already are what they are, and then you follow them to their inevitable conclusion. I once had a critic come back after reading one of my action sequences, saying that they didn’t like it, because I never said how did the character “feel” during the action. Feel? You kidding me? You’ve never been punched in the face before have you? You deal with it and feel later. Michael Mann’s characters have all been punched in the face. A lot.
My only pet peeve is that is really hard sometimes to figure out who somebody is supposed to be, because he likes to have people show up and not name them. It doesn’t really matter though, because they’re either bad bad guys, bad good guys, good bad guys, flawed good guys, or innocent bystanders.
Amateur 1930s Historian Review: Okay, as some of you know I’m writing a book set during the Great Depression, so over the last year I’ve done copious research into the period from the turn of the century to the late 1930s. I’ve read stacks and stacks of books, and I love me some Wikipedia. I especially like the gangster period and some of the people that are in this movie are minor background characters in Grimnoir.
Let’s just say that if you are going to look at Public Enemies with a microscope to make sure that it is 100% factually correct, you will be disappointed. Look, if I can check my brain at the door, and not start picking events apart, you can too. Here I am, beating myself up, looking up the history of individual words to make sure they were in common usage in 1932, and Michael Mann has people dying years before they really did, dying at somebody else’s hand, throwing together multiple events (which did make for one bad ass action sequence though), and more. So I’m sitting there, thinking to myself… Hmmm… Baby Face Nelson didn’t die like that… and he died after Dillinger… aww screw it, that was an awesome gun fight.
You guys just remember that when I totally screw up something in Hard Magic. I know my readers… Sure, I can have teleporting ninjas fighting on top of a burning super-dirigible armed with a Tesla super weapon that never existed and that’s cool, but heaven forbid if I have somebody drink a soda that wasn’t distributed for six more months. I don’t want angry e-mails telling me that a such and such wasn’t invented until 1933, or that so and so was dead in 1931, because I’ll say go to hell, mine’s fantasy/alternative history, and it went down different in my world! If Michael Mann can do it, so can I!
Overall, I really liked it.