Back in January 2009, if you would've asked me what my two most anticipated films of the year were I would have said "Public Enemies" and "Inglorious Bastards." Now that they've both been released and I've seen them both, one surpassed by expectations by a mile and another one fell way short. The thing is, back then, "Public Enemies" was miles ahead of "Inglorious Bastards" as far as expectations were concerned. That remained when their trailers were released. I was even kind of low on "Inglorious Bastards" for a few months before its release even though I still wanted to see it very much. I guess it's just the way the trailer focused on the actual bastards themselves. For the people who have seen the movie, we know that the movie has a lot more to offer than what the trailer shows.
So what the hell happened? How did Tarantino do it? How did Michael Mann blow it? Well, for starters, we all seem to forget that when Tarantino wants to entertain his audience, he does it. He knows how. He knows what we want, but more importantly, he knows what we didn't KNOW we wanted. From the trailers, I'm sure casual QT fans were pumped expecting this cool WWII action movie with Brad Pitt and these "basterds" who kick some Nazi ass. Do they do that? Yes. I'm sure some of the more cynical movie lovers, who perhaps prefer QT's most thought-provoking films such as Jackie Brown and Kill Bill Volume II, were expecting an engaging story, some great tense scenes, and some great acting. Did they get that? Hell yes. Basterds is part kick ass action movie, but the heart of Inglourious Basterds is its great, imaginative story, its slow, tension-building scenes that lead to the most satisfying conclusions in recent history, as well as excellent performances from Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, and Diane Kruger. Not to mention, Michael Fassbinder. Who? Exactly. Brad Pitt was the star of the movie, but he was outacted and outshined by the actors I just mentioned. Inglourious Basterds is an excellent movie, filled with surprises, and loved by any type of movie fan. As long as you can stomach the violence, you'll love this movie. In fact, I haven't even mentioned the movie's main, thought-provoking, mind-blowing message: should we be enjoying the violence we see on the screen? Just like the Nazis enjoy the violence that is displayed against the Allied forces in the movie that's shown in the movie? The way Quentin Tarantino turns the camera on us just completely forces you to re-think the way you've been watching this movie. This is why I love this movie more than some really strong, amazing movies this year such as Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker. I just knew, once that display occurred, that I was watching something special. Something that I would cherish for a long time to come.
It is possible to make a movie that's both a crowd-pleaser and one that raises the bar on war movies and filmmaking... all the while telling a completely original story that re-writes the history books.
That being said, Public Enemies does none of this. The movie takes a bunch of great actors and makes them look average. It takes some great, authentic-looking set pieces and diminishes them by capturing it on crappy, cheap-looking video. What should've been a great shootout sequence looks like a very impressive student film. There have been some great movies shot on video, hell, Collateral was shot on video and that was a good movie made by the same director. But Michael Mann really dropped the ball on this one. Honestly, if this movie was shot on film and all of the same, exact scenes were played out... this probably would've made my top 10 of this year even though the performances were still below par. It's funny how Michael Mann can take such a stiff actor in Russell Crowe and churn out a great performance in "The Insider," but he somehow doesn't know how to handle Johnny Depp who is one of the more flamboyant and energetic actors working today. But, instead, it's just Johnny Depp wearing a nice suit, carrying a gun around, and acting like... Johnny Depp. Let's not forget Christian Bale's performance. Oh yeah, he was in this movie. I did forget. Maybe if he wasn't so underused, he would've been better, and his storyline would've made more sense. Really, this film would've been better off focusing primarily on Bale and the formation of the FBI than on Dillinger. While Dillinger's robberies are fascinating and they were executed perfectly, after awhile, it's just no longer thrilling to watch Dillinger rob banks. We get it, he's good, who cares?
This could've been the greatest movie of the year and of the decade, but instead we got a collection of good scenes that were ruined by cheap camera work and stiff acting. Michael Mann should've taken a cue from Quentin Tarantino. Story first, then the rest later... AND SHOOT THE DAMN MOVIE ON FILM!