04 July 2009

Public Enemy Number 567

Temperature:  26c/79f

This afternoon I went to see Public Enemies, the new Johnny Depp movie.  Since I love Johnny Depp and this gave me an opportunity to eat American cinema popcorn, I was very much looking forward to it.

I arrived right before the previews, but fortunately I was able to find a seat in the third row back on the second level.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten the hugeness of this cinema's screens, a hugeness that meant that even in this row the faces of the actors were massive in close up, and thus rather hard to focus on.  This was no doubt not assisted by the fact that I was wearing my glasses, which have very scratched lenses, and by the fact that the director (Michael Mann) was partial to hand-held cameras.  The jittery joltingness of handheld always disturbs me.

Despite all this, I would say the movie was quite good.  Really, it was two movies, one of which was quite good, and one of which was only marginally interesting.  The marginally interesting one was about John Dillinger and his girlfriend Billie Frechette.  I'm sorry, but the two-lost-souls-meet/hard-man-finds-soulmate-he-is-destined-to-love-always storyline is now firmly entrenched in the realm of cliche.  It just doesn't have much to offer, no matter how well acted.

The other movie was the story of the bank-robbing career of John Dillinger.  This one was pretty good.  In addition to liking hand-helds, in this film Mann also seemed to like shooting in low light or washed out tones, and either because of this or in keeping with it the version of Dillinger the movie offered was as always slightly guarded, certainly isolated, contained and therefore in command (I'd like to say he was a Byronic Hero, but he didn't quite make it). Ultimately, this other movie was also pretty pointless, but it was a biopic, and biopics, like life, tend not to have a point.  You're just in them for the watching.  Plus, that Johnny Depp knows how to wear a well-cut overcoat.  (When I'm queen of the world, all men will be required to own and wear an elegant winter overcoat.)

In addition to Johnny Depp, the movie starred Christian Bale.  Shortly before I returned here I saw the most recent Terminator movie, and last year I saw the most recent Batman movie, so I've seen a lot of Christian Bale over the past year.  Watching him this time, I was moved to ask myself again, how it can be that he's so utterly uninteresting?  It's not precisely that he lacks charisma, although that's also true:  many actors without charisma are still interesting (I think of Rowan Atkinson, or Paul Giamatti, or a host of other wonderful character actors).  Christian Bale certainly lacks charisma, as far as I'm concerned, but also he's simply utterly uninteresting in a scene.  My eyes are forever wandering around the background of his scenes to see if there's anyone else on screen that I could pay attention to, or if there are any details I could focus my attention on.  I'd love to say he's understated, and in a weird way I'd love to say he's boring, because the first would be positive and the second would at least have the benefit of firmness.  But he's not - he's just banal.  I even found his little rant to the technician banal - pompous, but banal.  The reason why this puzzles me is that I saw him in American Psycho, and he was great; he was just right in that part, and he controlled the screen. But then, the conceit of that book and film is that the American Psycho is banal when he's not displaying his psychopathology.  So perhaps that was why he fit the part so perfectly.

Of course, his situation in this film was not helped by the fact that he was acting opposite Johnny Depp.  You couldn't call him uninteresting, or uncharismatic, and in this film he particularly exercised a weird kind of dark absorption.  For a long time I thought Johnny Depp must have made a pact with the devil so he'd never look as if he'd aged past 30, and this is the first film I've seen him where he looks his age - 45 at that time, I believe (and if you think this is the wrong way to look when you're playing a 31-year-old, have a look at the two men next to each other:

Anyway, watching Depp, for the first I really had  it brought home to me what "middle-aged" means, because although he looked like a grown man, and a man who was getting older, you could see just hidden by that maturing skin and face the pretty young man of five or ten years ago.  He would turn his head at a certain angle, or his face would be hit by the light at a certain angle, and you would see the wide-eyed beautiful young man that pops into my head whenever I think of him.  At other angles, he would be a proper grown-up man, thinner-faced, slightly troubled, showing his interesting past and his present interesting-ness in that face.  Very interesting.

And in addition to all that, he was good!  He wasn't great, and he wasn't even the best I've seen him, but he was good.  He managed to give a sense of Dillinger as a real person, which is often difficult with people who've passed into myth, and to give him a sense of thoughtfulness.  

So all in all a good film.  And then I came home and watched Frost/Nixon, making it two films in one day.  Although as I settled down into my seat for Public Enemies I thought once again how great it is to watch films in the cinema, and how, for me, home or even large-screen in a room viewing can never really measure up.  And I got to have popcorn with butter! (or, to be honest, butter-flavoured grease)  That's one aspect of America that's better than Britain:  in Britain there is no butter on cinema popcorn.

Now I must go.  I went swimming this afternoon, and it exhausted me.  First, though, here is a picture of my alcove.  This in no way captures its fabulousness, but I offer it as a pale imitation that merely stands in for the charm of the alcove itself:

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