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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Public Enemies

Thief (1981)

That “one last job”, never quite is.

Frank (James Caan) is your typical crook in the early 80’s, who’s just trying to make right with his life. He owns a used-car shop, has a girl (Tuesday Weld) that he’s trying to settle down with, and on the side, does a little bit of jewel-thievery. However, he’s an honest guy and doesn’t hurt anybody, so there can’t be much of a problem with taking another job from a head honcho in the Chicago mob (Robert Prosky), right? Well, Frank doesn’t believe so but he’s about to find out that you don’t just take the mob’s money and expect to go on about your day and act as if it never happened. You have commitments and you’re practically “part of the gang”, something that Frank does not run too well with.

Michael Mann hasn’t made a flick quite in some time and it makes you wonder one thing, why? I mean, granted, Public Enemies was no work of art to end-off with and Miami Vice was even worse, but everything else before is what most of us call close to being “a masterpiece” or at least something along those lines. I’ve seen most of Mann’s flicks and each and every one has done something for me in a positive way, even if they don’t always work when you take into consideration the decades that they were made in, but still, the guy had a style, the guy had a feel, the guy had a look, and the guy sure as hell knew how to tell a story, especially if that story consisted of dudes pulling off crimes, shooting one another, and cursing a shit-ton.

That Michael Mann, man.

"Oh no! I ain't getting shot in a hail of gun-fire this time!"

“Oh no! I ain’t getting shot in a hail of gun-fire this time!”

To be honest though, as much as I’ve heard overly positive things about this flick, I’ve never really brought myself to even bother with it. It wasn’t because I wasn’t interested, it’s just because 80’s movies don’t usually work for me like they do with some peeps. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Miami Vice (the TV show), I’m not a huge fan of New Wave, and I’m sorry, but the synths have to go! Probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to liking the 80’s, was GTA: Miami Vice which will always go down as one of the crowning moments in my life where not only did I realize I was a geek, but a geek that knew who A Flock of Seagulls were. Aw yeah. Times were good for 11-year-old Dan the Pre-Man, and then I grew up and realized that the 80’s blew. Then again, the 21st Century that I’m growing up in ain’t much better, so what the hell do I know, right?

Anyway, personal problems aside, I decided to see what Mann was up to with one of his first theatrical-releases and needless to say, it lived up to all of the expectations I’ve gathered from all of the other reviews of this movie I’ve been seeing, and then some. I won’t go so far as to call this “a masterpiece” like some peeps have, but I will go so far as to say that if you love crime movies, this is the movie you need to see right away, especially if you like your crime movies with an extra-dosage of style, color, and Tangerine Dream. Don’t worry, they’re on my shit-list, too.

And yes, you could say that some parts of Mann’s flick is dated, considering that the 80’s were lame, despite them thinking they were cool-as-hell. The score does become a bit over-bearing at times; people say certain pieces of lingo that feels put-on, rather than actually genuine; and the violence could have been a little less used with the slo-mo, but overall, this flick still kicks ass after all of these years. That’s mostly because Mann knows the type of story he wants to make, which isn’t exactly what you’d expect from most crime films located in the same vein. Rather than going for convention and making this a story about one dude pulling-off his last job and the problems with the mobsters he has to deal with, it’s actually more about the problem he has with facing himself and what he has to do for a living. Frank is the type of character that knows he can do so much better with his life, whether it be by settling down, raising a family, and being a loyal husband, but knows that the only way for him to be successful and prosperous in America is to make money at what you do best, even if that does mean robbing and stealing jewelry from high-class vaults. Hey, do what you’re good at, and leave it at that!

It’s more of an inner-battle that Frank with his own set of skills and the human being he can be, rather than the outer-battle with these bastards from the mob. That later-conflict does come into the flick, but comes in later once all of Frank’s stones have been set and we’ve gotten a clearer picture of who this guy is and how he functions as a human specimen. Mann goes for the humane-aspect of this character, but the approach wouldn’t have worked as perfectly had it not been for Caan in the lead role, pulling off one of his best of all-time.

Yep, that’s saying something for the same dude who played Sonny and even Walter Hobbs, if you really want to get all “commercial” with it.

Caan’s always been that actor who’s been putting out great pieces of work across-the-board for decades now, but never really gets the time to shine like he used to. You could say that has something to do with age or the fact that he’s apparently been considered “difficult” to work with, but I just say it’s a damn shame because the man shows us that he can work with any role, whether it be an generally nice guy, or a sympathetic crook who knows what he is and is trying to make something good come out of it. Caan plays Frank perfectly because you always know that there’s more to this guy and that you can always count on him to do the right thing, even if it is just for himself and not for the others around him. Hey, I didn’t say the guy was perfect, just human; that’s all.

But I think people out there reading this will think it’s nothing more than a character-study, with some guns and bullets thrown into the mix. And if you do think that, then you’re not entirely wrong; just know that the flick is pretty damn tense and gets very bloody, very quick, especially once everything starts to hit the fan, big time. Mann is the type of director that can make any plot begin to sizzle and boil just by giving us enough time to let all of the details and feelings settle in, and once that happens here, it’s balls to the walls with him, these characters, this story, and Mann’s sense of style. It’s an 80’s-style, but Mann was the king at it, so watching the king do his work ain’t half-bad if you don’t mind me saying so.

He's straining so hard to actually act. Should have just done speedball'd it up.

He’s straining so hard to actually act. Should have just done speedball’d it up.

The rest of the cast all let Cann do his show and pull it off with flying colors, but they all get to show their skills as well and not get thrown in the background for too long. Tuesday Weld is great as Jessie, Frank’s gal, because she gives us an understandable reason as to why she would want to be with and stay with someone like Frank, and even makes us believe that she could stand up for herself if push came to shove as well. The final scene between her and Frank is a very emotional one, one that took me by surprise because it’s so unexpected, yet, so heartfelt in the sense that it connects two people that we know love each other and are together throughout the whole film, and still shows their dedication and love to one another. Hell, I’m tearing up now just typing it.

The late, great Robert Prosky is very good as Leo, the main mobster that gets Frank’s the jobs and everything and seems like he’s a bit too nice and modest to be such a powerful-figure in the crime world, but once you see his true colors, you begin to realize that the guy is a mean, sick son-of-a-bitch who’s toes you should not step on. Also, he’s a Philly boy and I always have to give out love for that! You’ll also have to be on the look-out from smaller, younger roles from the likes of Denis Farina, Jim Belushi, and William Petersen, who all do fine, but also let Caan do his show, as promised and deserved.

Consensus: Some of it may be dated, but overall, Thief still works as not just an exciting crime-thriller, but an interesting character-study of a person we don’t know if we should root for, all because of how greatly Caan portrays him.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"You got the weed, or what?"

“You got the weed, or what?”

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Lawless (2012)

The Wettest County in the World would have totally been a lame title. Unless by “Wettest” they mean with blood. Then it’s cool.

Lawless revolves around three brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke) who become bootleggers in the South during the Prohibition. As business is booming, it attracts the attention of the local authorities who soon want a piece of the proverbial pie. One local authority in particular, played by Guy Pearce, doesn’t take all of this success so kindly.

After all of the big and glamorous Summer blockbusters come and go from the theaters, studios try their hardest to bring out any film between August and October that could be somewhat Oscar-worthy, yet, not enough due to it not being the Holiday season where all of the heavy-hitters. However, if you’re looking for something that may pack a hard-punch like all of the best Summer blockbusters this year, but yet, still have some Oscar qualities to it, then look no farther than John Hillcoat‘s latest. Trust me, it’s not THAT depressing.

If you have seen Hillcoat’s other two flicks (The Proposition and The Road), you’d know that this guy has a real sight for when it comes to making his films feel like they fit the setting, but also do something that helps the mood even-out all of the problems it may have somewhere along the line. This film definitely isn’t as grim and sinister as those other two, but there’s still enough of a tense atmosphere that Hillcoat brings to this material that got me going, even if it did seem take-off a bit too late in the game. There’s nothing new or original that Hillcoat brings to this material but the whole time I was watching, I felt like I was in the 30’s, where boot-legging was a very serious “no-no”, but everybody still went about doing it anyway.

Perhaps that was my only major complaint about this flick is that Hillcoat and Nick Cave (writer for this flick) don’t really bring anything new to this material, other than just an old-fashioned, shoot ’em up story with drama here and there. This story can be very unpredictable but you also can’t help but think that Cave sort of chickens out on some of the more darker elements to this story that could have been developed more, and actually came together at the end of the flick when all hell breaks loose. Other than Hillcoat’s style, this flick feels like it could have done by anybody else which is a disappointment because after seeing what these guys have been able to do in the past, I was expecting to be totally knocked out of my seat with something cool that I have never seen before in a story like this. This definitely won’t be getting any looks in the writing and directing department, but with a film this fun, I don’t really think it matters.

So yeah, the film does take awhile to get up-and-moving but once it actually does, it’s a whole bunch of unpredictable fun that reminded me a bit of Public Enemies, but without the terrible Southern accents via Christian Bale. It seems to me that the sight of a 30’s-era Tommy Gun in someone’s hands is a lot cooler, than an 21st century AK-47 in someone’s hands and that somewhat of a fact, stands true with this flick as there is a lot of shooting, bleeding, killing, double-crossing, and a whole bunch of violence to really make people squirm right in their seats. Much like The Proposition, this film isn’t as based around it’s violence as you would expect from all of the advertising for it. But whenever the violence does come into play with this story it’s just brutal, bloody, and amped with a whole bunch of sadistic energy that you could only get from a story that gets very bleak, very quick. Even if this is familiar territory Cave and Hillcoat are covering here, the story itself still leaves a whole bunch of surprises for us to see and that’s what really got me in the end because when the shit really starts hitting the fan late in the game, I really felt like the story could have gone anywhere and was just about to do so. Problem is, it sort of does and doesn’t, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourselves.

A lot of people seeing all of the advertising for this flick are seeing some dramatic heavy-hitters like Pearce and Oldman, as well as some fast-rising stars like Hardy and Chastain, will probably be terribly shocked by the casting of Shia LaBeouf leading the whole film, but have no fear people, he’s not all that bad. Maybe that’s not so warm to hear considering in every movie review I do for one of his flicks, I always give him the benefit of the doubt and talk about how good he is (Disturbia: check, Transfomers: check, Transformers 2: OK, I won’t even go there), but here, he actually is as the young and wild-cat, Jack. LaBeouf, out of everybody else here, probably does the best with his Southern-ish accent and can nail a lot of his dramatic parts very well, especially when his character is really pushed to the edge, by the end. Hopefully this flick shows that LaBeouf can be taken seriously as an actor, or if worse comes to worse, it could just show that it’s only a matter of time until we get that Even Stevens reunion we’ve all been waiting so anxiously for. Either way, it’s a win-win for him.

Another great performance comes from none other than Tom Hardy as his older brother, Forrest. Hardy, as we all know and have seen in the past years, is a total bad-ass when it comes to his roles and takes all of his character’s, and gives them this edge to them that not only makes them intimidating as hell but also very lovable in the long-run. Forrest is a great example of that acting skill because we see Hardy go for this no nonsense talk, brooding character that may not say much in his simple way of life, but still gets our appreciation whenever he has to knock someone’s teeth in with one of his lethal brass knuckles. He may not be in the film just as much as LaBeouf, but he still creates enough of a presence to make him feel like a lead in his own right.

The last great performance to high-light is none other than Guy Pearce as the terribly distasteful city cop, Charlie Rakes. Pearce seems like he’s getting more and more juicer roles as of late, and I think Rakes may be his best one so far because this character is just so damn unlikable that you really want him to die or something bad to just happen to him whenever his groomed, eyebrow-less face shows up on-screen. This is a black-as-coal character that makes no mistakes in being the ever-loving shit out of everybody he has a problem with and makes no apologies, either. This is just one sick son of a bitch that doesn’t give a shit what you think of him, he’s just going to do what he wants and I honestly couldn’t get enough of this character (I mean, that is why he gets the pleasure of being my poster for this review). It may be a tad too soon to start talking about some Oscar talk for him, but you never know because this is one of those “evil performances from a character actor” that the Academy usually eats up.

As for everybody else that I failed to mention, they’re all pretty good, too. Jessica Chastain plays a lovely gal named Maggie, who seems to attract the eyes of Forrest and gives a good performance, even if she does seem a little wasted here. Another piece of wasted talent (I think) is Mia Wasikowska as Jack’s little, love-interest. Both of them seem like they were just here for some female appeal for this flick and even though they don’t do much to keep this plot moving, they still do their best with what they’re given. That’s all that really counts. Another performance I was slightly disappointed by was Gary Oldman‘s as a notorious gangster, Floyd Banner. Oldman is great at playing a villain with a conscience, which he does very well here, but he isn’t in the film for more than 8 minutes which is a real surprise since this guy can really hit it out-of-the-park when he chooses to. But something also tells me he allowed those duties to be left to Pearce, and thank him for that. Almost like a passing of the torch for character acting, if you will.

Consensus: There’s nothing new or original about this take on a pair of bootleggers in the 30’s, but Lawless still provides a good story, with some very good performances from the ensemble cast, and plenty of action and violence to satisfy anybody’s late-Summer needs. Just make sure that THIS Tom Hardy doesn’t tell The Dark Knight Rises Tom Hardy you weren’t fully satisfied, then you may be screwed.

8/10=Matinee!!

Public Enemies (2009)

Finally, Johnny Depp actually plays somebody normal.

Set during the Great Depression, it follows the final years of notorious bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) as he is pursued by Bureau of Investigation agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). It also depicts Dillinger’s relationship with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), as well as Purvis’s pursuit of Sparrow associates and fellow criminals Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham).

Michael Mann is known for directing action-packed thrillers such as Heat, and Collateral, but they were always shot in modern times, with less of a story, here he gets to change up the time, and focus on more story. Which was not a very good idea after all.

I think the one problem with this film is that it is kind of bland, mainly because it’s based on a real-story. Everybody knows what happens to these guys, and it just do anything really fun or inventive to change the pace of our minds with the film. Another problem was the use of an HD camera for this film. The shaky camera takes a lot away from the film, and the pixels, and annoying close-ups, do start to run its course by the first hour mark. I also knew it was a bad idea, cause I kept asking myself: they had hand-held cameras back in the 30’s? Nothing looked as realistic as it could have, with a real camera.

Still I got to give it to the Mann(pun intended), he is still the king of action sequences. Since these dudes are robbing banks, Depression style, of course we get a lot of shoot-outs, and to say the least their actually very fun to watch. There is this one sequence where it takes place in the forest, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Not as great as Heat’s bank robbery, but still great none the less. I also thought he did a good job of showing the known hysteria, and panic that was in the depression, as Dillinger and the boys, started to rumble up on the bank robbery’s.

Johnny Depp does a great job at playing an actual real person for once in a long time. He plays Dillinger as sort of an anti-hero, that’s funny, charming, but also very smart, and lethal with what he does, and does a great job at playing this character. I was pretty disappointed by Christian Bale‘s performance here, and I thought his attempt to make a Southern accent, was pretty dumb, and annoying. It sucks but I think he wants this to be his forgotten role. Marion Cotillard is great here as well, and her and Depp create this lovely chemistry that seems so real, that by the end, you can just feel the love between these two. Other actors that do a good job in this are Giovanni Ribisi, Billy Crudup, Stephen Lang, and a random cameo from Channing Tatum.

Consensus: There are obvious faults here within Public Enemies, but they are somehow over-shadowed, by the great action sequences, and wonderful performances from the cast, minus Bale.

7/10=Rental!!!