dir: Michael Mann
John Dillinger is not really one of those names that lights up the night sky or the imagination, at least anywhere apart from the US. I’m sure he’s Robin Hood and Ayn Rand all rolled into one in the States, but to the rest of the world, if we know anything about him, it’s that he was alive at some point in the past, and is now dead.
And in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “If he’s so smart, why is he dead?”
Well, Johnny Depp, the dapper gent himself, and Michael Mann, the cop and crim obsessed-director, thought it was time to resurrect the tale of the Depression era populist ‘hero’, and his subsequent demise. Mann puts his particularly Mannish spin on things by emphasising the cool professionalism with which Dillinger and his crew conducted themselves. And, of course, the professionalism of Dillinger’s main opponents, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), also have to act as a parallel counterbalance.
Of course, all of this occurs independent of, and, in most cases, in direct contradiction to the established history of these events.
But, let’s be serious about this, does it really matter? Do I really care that the real Melvin Purvis was nowhere near Dillinger when he kicked the bucket, or that they never met in reality in order to have one of those “we’re so similar despite being on opposite sides of the law, I could almost respect you, but I’ll kill you given half a chance” moments that Mann has loved having in his films since Heat?
No, I don’t. I don’t want this to be a documentary. I couldn’t care less about the facts regarding Dillinger’s life previous to watching this flick, and I care even less now. I wanted to be entertained. And I was, for a good long while. The problem is that this flick, for no discernible reason, goes for two and a half long hours. I can honestly and accurately say that I was entertained for its first 90 minutes. I can’t say that about the rest of it.
The flick pulls a neat trick over on the audience initially. It makes the life of Dillinger and his cohorts seem exciting and interesting, at first. It’s all hookers and cocaine when things are going right. It could be the first time this idea has been represented in film, I’m not sure. These hardcore crims are nasty pieces of work, even back in the 30s, way before a form of music existed which would have allowed them to boast aloud about how badass they all were. Instead, a repetitive electric banjo has to tell us that something fun yet murderous is going down.
Dillinger and his crew, mostly, operate with ruthless efficiency. At least, that’s how Michael Mann wants us to see them. Sure, Dillinger was famous for getting in and out of banks with a speed that made the ladies look at him funny, but trust Mann to put far more effort into setting up the robberies, the shootouts and the getaways than any other aspect of the flick. The film also has not one but two jail breaks as well, in fact starts with a sterling one at that.
Truth is, these are the best bits of the flick. Any time where someone isn’t breaking out of jail or shooting at cops with Tommy guns, interest flags almost to the point of feeling guilty about wishing more people would get killed.
It’s just that, really, Dillinger wasn’t apparently that interesting a character.