Movie Review: Public Enemies

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.

Hate mail time
Git 'er done. 1899 style.

8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Public Enemies”

  1. Just got home from this man! Can’t agree with you more! I loved the gun play in this movie, the 1903’s are a period favorite for me. And they even rolled out the full auto extended clip 38 super! HAPPINESS! Yeah I don’t remember how baby face died but I didn’t think that was it lol. For some reason though I thought the movie he went to see before he died was a James Cagney gangster. Not the one they had in there. But I’m recommending EVERYONE watch this. I loved the shootout from the running boards of the cars! HOLY CRAP!

  2. You make an interesting point about character, but especially about fight scenes. I listen to the podcast that Howard Taylor and Brad Sanderson do (Writing Excuses) and I was struck by the same thing when they did a show on fight scenes. They wanted people to be thinking constantly, thinking they were about to die, talking to themselves about how they’ve never been in a fight before and they’re not going to make it, etc etc etc. I understand what they’re saying, but I think that’s often what kills a fight scene. A fight is not a time for contemplation. If your hero starts contemplating, you’re not writing a fight anymore. Comic books are the exception because the flaw (in my mind) of having a character telling all his innermost thoughts out loud during a brawl to the death lasted long enough to become a convention, so now it’s expected and therefore accepted by comic book fans.

    On the other hand, the Writing Excuses guys discussed one of their favorite fight scenes, the gladiator knife fight in Dune where Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen kills the gladiator. I have to admit, that’s a great scene, and it’s just as wordy and overthinky as I’ve described above. On the other hand, that was also one of Herbert’s few flaws–his characters were constantly going off on these mental excursions where they would think several paragraphs of dialogue while a dangerous opponent was facing them with knife in hand or sitting across a table. It was hard to believe that the rest of the world came to a halt when they wanted to spend a minute or two thinking things over.

    In what I’m working on now, any fight will be a school thing, so I expect it to be clumsy, chaotic and short.

  3. Don, that is an excellent point. I listen to that same podcast. I know those guys a little bit, and I’m even going to be a guest on it in a month.

    For those of us that have been rolling around with another person who’s trying to actually hurt the hell out of you, there’s no contemplation. There’s only violenc.e

    I remember one time I got hit in the nose. Broke it. I felt it pop. I hadn’t seen it coming. Water started shooting out of my eyes. I could barely see. And my most coherent thought was “Mother F***ing **** **** broke nose must die!!!!!” And that went on for the next fifteen to twenty seconds as I flailed around with the guy hanging on me. So I guess that it is kind of like a comic book, but my dialog would be just like the Hulk. 🙂

    I tried to do that with Owen as a POV character. He’s a very competent shooter, and as long as there’s a bit of distance, his thoughts are relatively ordered, but as it it gets tighter, it is just ON. He’s a mean son of a gun at that point. There’s a lot of hitting, snarling, and grunting, then somebody loses a limb.

  4. The last time some nitwit tried a pain compliance hold on me, he ended up completely dislocating my little finger. I picked him up and hit the wall with him. Repeatedly. Until he stopped moving.

    You do not want to start a fight with someone who will not fold to pain … just shoot that person and run.

    ( Intel Corp was not happy about the wall damage. Ex-Drill Instructor Security Office Supervisor learned that crap he got away with on recruits does not work well on gorilla-like near anarchist libertarians. We came to an agreement. I would lawful obey orders or tender my resignation. He would keep his hands off of me. I kept my job. They didn’t get sued. We got along fine after that.

    After a few years, I got a computer industry job, and put that renta-cop shit behind me …. )

  5. I just saw. Excellent with one caveat, the hunting lodge had a couple scenes that were just shitty, like they couldn’t fit a real camera into the room and used some sort of cheapass panasonic on a nightstand.

    Otherwise kickass.

  6. Larry, I noticed. 🙂

    Back to the topic at hand, since Vaarok insists on discussing the subject of the post, I haven’t seen the movie. I did hear one review, but it was generally pretty negative. On the other hand, it was on NPR, so I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. But one thing the reviewer didn’t like was the HD video. He said it was fine for the most part, but that you could actually see the pancake makeup on the male actors in closeup and it took him right out of the story.
    Maybe you have to be a film geek to notice it.

  7. This is one of the things that’s so fascinating about this movie: it appeals in so many different ways – to the romantics for the love story, to the photography geeks, to the gunfighters/actioners. You can watch this movie with all these different types in the theater and you can feel how they respond at different times during the movie. Once it’s all over, most seem to like it.

  8. My brother was a set painter on this movie, he did a lot of the bank sets and the hospital room. Some of the scenes were filmed in Lockport IL, it’s pretty funny to see buildings you recognize on the big screen.

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