Monday, July 13, 2009
Feel The Heat Around The Corner
Both Heat and Public Enemies open with crimes that go wrong, in both cases because one of the criminals loses their rag and is more violent than they have to be; in the first, the inexorable unravelling of the lives the rest of the film seems to document rather than force is begun by that loss of control, whereas in the second, so far as the film is concerned, that act is basically consequenceless, forgotten after the first five minutes or so. This is the problem with most of Public Enemies: not quite, I think, as Peter Bradshaw claims, that Johnny Depp is too taciturn, insufficiently flamboyant; it's hardly like De Niro or even Pacino, admittedly better and crucially older actors than Depp, chew up the scenery in Heat; they instead exude calm, world-bitten menace. It's that it's mostly very easy for Depp: he breaks out of a prison with a bit of metal shaped into a vaguely gun-like form before driving away past tens of soldiers without a shot being fired, bribes the police and buys souped-cars seemingly at whim, even goes out on the town, casually revealing what he does to strangers. There's no tension: if anything goes wrong, it doesn't seem to matter - there's not even a sense of the scale on which things can go wrong: it's just Depp, being weirdly unemotional in a world he seems to move through without any real effort at all - and so no sense of inexorable failure of everything really begins to build until the last half hour or so. Compare and contrast the romance in Heat with that in Public Enemies: admittedly Eady's as much of a cipher as Flechette is, but at least living in a world in which things do not just fall into his lap, De Niro has had the space to seem justly self-confident, competent, charismatic; you can see what's attractive about him, whereas Depp, notwithstanding being rather handsome, is at best a little boorish. Alternatively, think of the slow-burning disaster in The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford: desperate hero worship gone sour and bitter in the face of what violence and mistrust will do to you in the end, and a much better film for it. There is one wonderful scene, where Depp is sitting in the cinema, watching Manhattan Melodrama, seemingly like he knows what he can't, that he'll die on the street outside when he leaves. And tension does build towards the end, as the mob refuses to provide support and he's left without a bolthole. Nonetheless, overall, flat and, from Mann, disappointing.