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Public Enemies
Directed by Michael Mann
Review by Tony Sheppard

“Public Enemies” tells the story of bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), who became both the nemesis and the inspiration for J. Edgar Hoover as he was expanding the FBI. It’s a film that I would expect to enjoy, despite not being a big Depp fan, as it has numerous other cast members and the fact that I usually like cops-and-gangsters themes. But there are aspects of the project that took me out of the moment and left the whole experience feeling flat.  

I’ve enjoyed the work of Christian Bale (as Special Agent Melvin Purvis) and Stephen Dorff since they were both child actors, albeit with some misses, and I especially liked the appearance here of some other favorites in smaller supporting roles: Billy Crudup (as J. Edgar Hoover), Rory Cochrane, and Giovanni Ribisi. But the film takes a somewhat stand-offish tone with the characters. After initially introducing the major protagonists, we don’t seem to be encouraged to sympathize with either side. It’s hard to tell if this is an attempt at being non-partisan or an avoidance of the inherent risk of having an audience side with a doomed character. But the outcome made me feel detached, not really caring too much about anybody’s ultimate fates. And there is a lot of ugly fate at work. In recent years police have lamented the advanced fire power of criminals, but there are enough bullets flying around in “Public Enemies” to destroy vehicles and buildings, as well as human bodies.

My larger problem with the film, and this may have been very personal, was in the manner in which it was shot. There was a turning point in the movie for me, during a scene at the Little Bohemia Lodge, in the woods of Wisconsin (and a historic location in the Dillinger story), when the nature of the action and cinematography suddenly made me acutely aware that I was watching video and not film. I’m not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me sooner than that, but it then bothered me for the rest of the movie. Film and video, depending on quite how the video is shot and what cameras are used, have a different appearance and at times “Public Enemies” felt like an extremely high budget home movie, or at least something that seemed sub-par for a production of this type, more like the video standards of a few years ago.

The story itself seems sound, and the problems I perceived may not bother others. But I came away from it in a strangely ambivalent mood, wondering if I would have liked it even less with a different cast or liked it better with different cameras.

Crest Theater roundup
By Malcolm Maclachlan
This week at the Crest Theater is Food, Inc. We reviewed this documentary about the agriculture industry in our May 28 issue. It takes the theory that the fast food industry has remade agriculture in its own image—leading to less healthy food and poorer farmers. It runs July 3-9. The Crest is at 1013 K St., near the Capitol. An excerpt from that review:

“Food, Inc.” shows farmers who are being sued by Monsanto for copyright violations after genetically-modified soybean pollen floats into their fields. We meet with a chicken farmer who is toiling away for a big producer who owns the birds from egg to store shelf, making only $18,000 a year while suffering the indignity of pulling out dead, diseased birds each day.

The film has a high “yuck” factor, with the story of a two-year old boy killed by E. Coli from a Jack in the Box hamburger juxtaposed with tours of factory farms, feedlots and slaughterhouses—one of which produces meat so dirty is has to be treated with ammonia.
Last weekend also saw the conclusion of the seventh annual Sacramento French Film Festival. My favorite of the four films I saw this year by far was a romantic comedy called “I Do” (“Prête-moi ta main,” which I’m told literally translates to “How to Get Married and Stay Single”). If this film was made in Hollywood, it would star Matthew McConaughey, and it would dissolve into a smarmy, sentimental mess long before the end. Here it sparkles, with layered jokes and a brisk pace that left me wanting more after the 90 minutes were up.

Luis (Alain Chabat) is a 43 year-old confirmed bachelor who conceives of a fake wedding to get his overbearing mother and five sisters off his back. He hires his best friend’s younger sister Emmanuelle (the adorable Charlotte Gainsbourg) to play the role of the perfect bride who will conveniently leave him at the altar. Emma proves to be much more than he bargained for, quickly turning the whole plot on its head and leaving Luis scrambling to manage his demanding family.

“I Do” was actually made in 2006. It’s available on Netflix, where it has a rating of 3.5 stars. Just a note—this rating was pulled down by several one star reviews whose main complaint was that the film has subtitles. In one of those rare words that is the same in French and English: Idiots!

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