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TheatricalThe Woman in Black (2012)
10/02/2012 | Nikki Baughan

Having relaunched in 2010 with the promise of delivering solid horror films for a modern audience, the output from the rebooted Hammer Films has been something of a mixed bag. While its inaugural release, remake Let Me In, was received with great fanfare, subsequent films The R [ ... ]

TheatricalMan on a Ledge (2012)
03/02/2012 | Nikki Baughan

For his feature debut, Danish filmmaker Asger Leth follows his 2006 documentary Ghosts of Cite Soleil (co-directed with Milos Loncarevic) with something entirely different; a high concept action thriller that is about as Hollywood as they come. That’s to say that everything is [ ... ]

More Theatrical Reviews

Public Enemies (2009)


Gangster Number One

It wasn’t just the oppressive heat that was generating a buzz in the screening room; there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air, even among the most hardened critics. Teaming as it does the remarkable acting talents of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale together with the impressive directorial weight of Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider, Ali), Public Enemies was a serious contender for movie of the year before even a minute had unspooled on screen. To live up to this level of extreme expectation the film needed to go way beyond great – it needed to be perfect.

It is.

It’s the 1930s, and the Great Depression is ravaging the United States. Benefiting from this financial gloom is gangster John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) who, together with his loyal gang, is robbing banks in and around Chicago. Becoming a popular hero thanks to his charming personality, the Dillinger legend becomes increasingly exciting as he breaks out of every jail that tries to hold him. When he falls for the beautiful Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), Dillinger decides to get out of the game with one last score – but he hadn’t reckoned on the FBI, the crime-fighting agency newly formed by J Egdar Hoover (Billy Crudup). And agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) will stop at nothing to bring down Dillinger, who has become Public Enemy Number 1.

As with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Mann’s Heat, Depp and Bale share mere minutes of screen time – and even then their confrontation is tempered by the bars of a prison cell. But, unlike in Heat, it doesn’t matter; the film is not built around the novelty of two acting behemoths appearing together, but rests on their individual talents (and those of their mighty supporting cast). Yet it is, undoubtedly, Depp’s movie; he inhabits the most time on screen and is absolutely pitch-perfect in every moment. Dillinger is a deeply compelling character, a true anti-hero that you can’t help but root for, and Depp captures every facet of his personality. As the man, he is charismatic, gentle, vulnerable even – he surely knows what fate lies ahead of him, and of all men like him, in Hoover’s brave new world. As the gangster, he is sharp, aggressive and focused, revelling in his notoriety and pushing his status as legend to the absolute limit. Wry sequences that see him wander, unnoticed, through a police station or sit among a cinema audience as his wanted image is flashed up on the big screen raise a smile, but they also speak to an era of gangsters as true celebrity. The legend is so big, that people simply don’t see the man.

Bale is solid in the role of Purvis, although his character is completely defined by his hunt for Dillinger. His personality is not fleshed out beyond his role in the FBI, although as the man who understood detective work needed to change with the times, Purvis proves to be a worthy, dedicated opponent and a figurehead for the beginning of the end of the original gangster.

Cotillard, too, is also exquisite in the role of Dillinger’s moll, Billie. She is utterly mesmerising, her chemistry with Depp giving the film its heart and also an unbearable sense of fate; as the two grab at any moments they have together, it’s clear that they understand that theirs is a love that can’t last.

The strength of Mann’s film lies not just in its jaw-dropping performances – although the Academy should certainly be looking in Depp’s direction. It’s also a breath-taking visual experience - complete with an exceptionally well-chosen and evocative 30s soundtrack - shot with high-definition cameras that put us in the heart of the action. As bullets fly, connecting with <visceral impact, as jailbreaks unfold, as banks are raided and as Dillinger and Purvis circle each other, the focus is clear, unblinking and hyper-real. Mann captures the painful reality of being a gangster just as he celebrates the glory – bullets hurt, people die and crime, folks, really doesn’t pay. And the climactic showdown, coming after Dillinger has watched Clark Gable as a gentleman crook in 1934’s Manhattan Melodrama, is as moving as it is brutal, a heart-breaking lament for the golden age of the American gangster as well as an inevitable, and fitting, end to Dillinger’s story.

Intelligent, fast-paced and utterly compelling, Mann's film makes no apologies for either its subjects or its methods – it’s up to his audience to keep up with the relentless pace, huge cast of characters and spiffy dialogue. As such, it may benefit from a second viewing, particularly as it’s so visually overwhelming that some details may be easily, and understandably, missed first time around. But it’s instantly clear that Public Enemies is a new breed of cinema with a whole new aesthetic, a beautifully crafted action movie that has brains, brawn and beauty in equal measure. Simply, stunning.

5 stars

Watch Public Enemies Trailer 1
Watch Public Enemies Trailer 2

Watch Johnny Depp Interview

See Public Enemies Chicago Premiere Photos

Theatrical Reviews Archive

The Woman in Black (2012)
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Man on a Ledge (2012)
Night at the Museum 2 (2009)
Orphan (2009)
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Star Trek (2009)
Black Swan (2010)
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Tormented (2009)
Coraline (2009)
Adam (2009)
Terminator Salvation (2009)
The Wrestler (2008)
Aliens in the Attic (2009)
Summer Scars (2007)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Red Riding Hood (2011)
Coco Before Chanel (2009)
GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
Blind Loves (2008)
Moon (2009)
Angels & Demons (2009)
Helen (2008)
Cherry Blossoms (2008)
Hereafter (2010)
Delta (2008)
Dorian Gray (2009)
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Bottle Shock (2008)
Just Another Love Story (2007)
Watchmen (2009)
District 9 (2009)
The Disappeared (2008)
Paranormal Activity (2009)
Afghan Star (2008)
Fireflies in the Garden (2009)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Anything For Her (2008)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)
Sex and the City 2 (2010)
Sunshine Cleaning (2009)
Gran Torino (2008)
The Last House on the Left (2009)
Frozen River (2008)
New Town Killers (2008)
Zombieland (2009)
Heartless (2009)
Frozen (2010)
500 Days of Summer
The Scouting Book For Boys (2009)
The Expendables (2010)
Predators (2010)
Year One (2009)
Public Enemies (2009)
Awaydays (2009)
Tetro (2009)
Hierro (2009)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009): Review & Clips
The Road (2009)
Source Code (2011)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Robin Hood (2010)
Shutter Island (2010)
Fuck (2005)
Lebanon (2009)
Cemetery Junction (2010)
The Unborn (2009)
Not Quite Hollywood (2008)
The Yes Men Fix the World (2009)
The Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call: New Orleans (2009)
Submarine (2011)
Drive Angry 3D (2011)




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Movie Highlight

The Woman in Black

Having relaunched in 2010 with the promise of delivering solid horror films for a modern audience, the output from the rebooted Hammer Films has been something of a mixed bag. While its inaugural release, remake Let Me In, was received with great fanfare, subsequent films The Resident and Wake Wood have been less successful. So with its first big release, The Woman in Black, Hammer has much to prove – and has piled on the pressure by choosing to adapt a story that’s not only a bestselling novel but also a long running West End play.

An additional challenge is that tale is so effective because of its simplicity; there are no big set pieces for a filmmaker to hide behind. So it’s reassuring to see that, while some elements of Susan Hill’s story have been tweaked to give it more of a cinematic scope, the narrative runs fairly true. At its heart is young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) who, still reeling from the death of his wife in childbirth four years previously, is sent to a remote village in order to organise the paperwork at the isolated Eel Marsh House. On his arrival he finds the locals most unwelcoming, believing that anyone disturbing the peace at the house brings tragedy to the village. Although initially sceptical, Kipps soon discovers that the mansion holds horrifying secrets, and that one of its former occupants is determined to exact terrifying revenge…

READ FULL REVIEW:  The Woman in Black

DVD Highlight

The Walking Dead

The living dead have been a mainstay of horror cinema for decades. Now they maraud onto the small screen in Frank Darabont’s adaptation of the graphic novel by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard.

Brit favourite Andrew Lincoln (This LifeTeachers) adopts a convincing drawl to take on the role of sheriff Rick Grimes, who wakes from a coma to find the local residents have become flesh-eating ghouls. While the initial set-up is reminiscent of 28 Days Later, these zombies are not Danny Boyle’s fast moving monsters, but the lumbering breed of tradition. That doesn’t dilute their impact; as Rick teams up with other survivors, the zombies are relentless in their pursuit and the tension builds to unbearable levels.

READ FULL REVIEW: The Walking Dead

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