Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Regardless of aesthetic, period or budget, Michael Mann now shoots films on a high-end version of a digital video camera you’d use at a barbecue. Public Enemies, his 2009 biopic of 1930s bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), used that to peculiarly, but invigoratingly, anachronistic effect.
Dante Spinotti’s cinematography is all vivid daytime contrast, nubby nighttime scenes and pristine detail. Savor the knotty gunstock pine, scratchy stubble, quivering down on a neck’s nape and last breaths escaping in chilly air.
Yes, Mann has settled into fat-budget versions of his mas-macho milieu. But no modern director feels as attuned to crime’s contradictions, punishment’s perils and roiling emotions. In Mann’s world, no successful justice is wholly righteous and no illegal crime truly unsavory.
Dillinger robbed banks the way some seek an MBA — with diligent dedication. But scores grew riskier, charming country boys gave way to cunning mobsters, and, in time, Dillinger’s Robin Hood persona played out with the public.
Neither Depp nor Christian Bale (as pursuant lawman Melvin Purvis) crackle quite as much as you’d think. But whenever Depp shares a scene with Marion Cotillard — as Dillinger’s paramour — Enemies sparks with sexy danger and the idea that film’s 24-frames-per-second would outlast Dillinger’s 100-second bank-robbing speed.
Unwieldy and patchy, it was no Heat. Call it Warmth by way of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Eventually, it shifted from a violent version of The Aviator into Mann’s equivalent of Gangs of New York — a period-piece foyer into poetic violence.