Brit critics cool on ‘Enemies’

Posted by · 5:30 pm · July 2nd, 2009

Marion Cotillard and Johnny Depp in Public EnemiesWith Stateside critics somewhat split on “Public Enemies,” I was interested to see what the UK reception for the film would be like. For all the brawny Americanness of his aesthetic, Michael Mann has many passionate apologists on these shores — he even received a BAFTA nod in 2005 for “Collateral” — perhaps to some degree because Britain is where he studied film and began his career.

On this occasion, however, the limeys aren’t feeling the love, as the film has opened to a raft of disappointing notices from the major British broadsheets. Wendy Ide at the Times of London is harshest, calling the film “a bloody, muddy mess.” She’s no fan of the film’s digital aspects, perhaps rather naively complaining about the lack of studio sheen:

Mann’s aim appears to be to develop a new, distinctive digital aesthetic. Which is admirable in theory, but Mann’s digital aesthetic seems to involve making the movie look as grimy and unpolished as possible. Post-production is for wimps. That irresistibly glossy, larger-than-life reality created by Hollywood movies is diminished here. The flat glare of the digital camera emphasises the artifice of the film-making process rather than bringing the hoped-for gritty authenticity to the story.

Like Ide, Sukhdev Sandhu at the Telegraph affords the film a mere two stars, decrying — as many critics have — the film’s emotional distance, but rather surprisingly laying much of the blame at Johnny Depp’s feet:

Depp looks great in his Fedora and long coats. He’s not bad at pulling out a tommy gun and spraying bullets at police agents, either. But these are costume changes, gestures and poses, little more than wan impersonations. He’s bloodless, a vacuum at the centre of the film, unwilling or unable to risk any kind of emotional investment in or make a stab at interpreting his character … how has it come to pass that so blank a performer is regarded as star material?

Sandhu is not the only one who has a problem with Depp’s work: the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw actually finds himself more taken with Christian Bale’s “formidably convincing” performance in the secondary role. That said, Bradshaw likes the film rather more than the two previously mentioned critics, praising the fluidity of Dante Spinotti’s lensing and Mann’s affinity for big action set pieces, but ultimately finds it less than the sum of its parts:

Mann’s G-Man opera has the ingredients of a great film which don’t quite come together. But they are certainly potent. There is a surging, sombre orchestral score by Elliot Goldenthal which channels the spirit of Bernard Herrmann’s music for Taxi Driver. It’s a picture with virility and confidence, and unlike Dillinger’s machine-gun, which the man himself expertly takes to pieces, it never quite jams, and gets off one or two lethal rounds.

Robert Quinn at the Independent offers a similar “good-not-great” pronouncement, admiring the film’s construction and individual set pieces, but complaining of “too much bustle” in the film’s narrative, with Depp and Bale both lacking “the weight to fight the kind of duel Mann wants.”

Three years after “Miami Vice” arguably found more defenders abroad than at home, this is something of a cold shoulder for Mann. It’ll be interesting to see if audiences here respond more enthusiastically.

→ 12 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

12 responses so far

  • 1 7-02-2009 at 5:47 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah it seems to be underwhelming a large majority of critics everywhere, actually. Shame.

  • 2 7-02-2009 at 5:55 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Well, as long as Mann’s got the likes of Dargis and Turan on his side, he can hold his head pretty high, in my opinion.

  • 3 7-02-2009 at 7:16 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    I’m afraid that most of these critics from across the pond are right – though I don’t have a problem with the film’s digital look.

    I found more character and story in the theatrical trailer to “Miller’s Crossing” than I did in Public Enemies. The last line of Entertainment Weekly’s review nails it: “Public Enemies re-creates clothes, but doesn’t fully fashion the man who wore them.”


  • 4 7-02-2009 at 7:31 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Wow, Gittes. If I expected anyone here to “get” this film, it was you. Sad to see you missed the boat.

    Now give me my poster back. :)

  • 5 7-02-2009 at 8:28 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    I’m not sure if there’s a boat to catch on this one. But I’d like to see it again.

    Don’t worry. The poster is still going on the wall. Mann is still the man.

    Mann spent almost a decade on the script for Heat. And I think about this…

  • 6 7-02-2009 at 11:11 pm

    red_wine said...

    So 1 week later public enemies would have come and gone with huge critical indifference. I would characterize this response as something that Watchmen received. I always thought this was gonna be the re-action. Some people are saying the reviews aren’t even good enough for 10 slots, but when has the academy cared about critics.

  • 7 7-03-2009 at 1:48 am

    BurmaShave said...

    This is going to be one of those films where people look back and wonder what the hell most people missed at the time. A classic for our age and certainly the best film of 2009 so far.

  • 8 7-03-2009 at 2:53 am

    Michael W. said...

    Remember though, that Empire gave it 5 out of 5!

    The film also opens here in Denmark today and it has mostly gotten fine reviews. Most papers and online sites use 6 stars here, and it has gotten several 4 star reviews and a few 3 and 5 star reviews. So definitely a mixed reaction here also.

    I will see it tomorrow night and I can’t wait. I’m a huge fan of Michael Mann.

  • 9 7-03-2009 at 4:21 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Is the movie just too hip for most critics? Or is it really not that good? I personally cannot imagine that last being the case.

  • 10 7-03-2009 at 10:38 am

    Pete said...

    To me, the point of movies is that it immerses audiences into an alternate reality. With digital, it just reminds the audience that this is fake, and this is just a movie. Film, when done right, offers the most vivid, crystal-clear image that makes the films seem real. Digital is crap.

  • 11 7-03-2009 at 11:19 am

    Chase Kahn said...

    This is easily the best studio picture of the year so far and will probably end up as such.

    Hopefully it’s reputation in the years to come will improve. Anybody on the same wavelength as Mann will find a TON to like here and the digital looks is totally immersive and bold — not every period film has to look like a damn Eastwood movie.

  • 12 7-03-2009 at 11:21 am

    Chase Kahn said...

    I’m glad someone mentioned the score — it’s one-note and subtle, but damn it works. I found myself humming it all day long after I saw it for the second time the other day.