There are no small roles.

July 3, 2009



Amid all the tsurris about Michael Jackson’s death bubbles the question of how long his fame will endure. He will have done well, it seems, if the public fixation with him lasts as long as its interest in John Dillinger, an anti-social holdup man and murderer who was shot to death 75 years ago. Once Independence Day is out of the way, we can focus our attention on John Dillinger Day, an observance that commemorates his death, which occurred on July 22, 1934.

There are those, of course, who say that it wasn’t Dillinger who was gunned down outside a movie theater in Chicago, and I suppose we’ll have to live with those who will claim that Jackson didn’t die in Los Angeles last week but is living in Buenos Aires with Adolph Hitler, Emilia Earhart, and Elvis Presley. At last, a fourth for bridge.

The reviews in the Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post are unenthusiastic about the movie “Public Enemies,” in which Johnny Depp portrays Dillinger. Dan Zak writes in the Post:



There’s no excitement in the bank-robbing, no thrill of the chase, no emotion over justice served or thwarted. Depp’s Dillinger is neither charming nor despicable, nor does he occupy that delicious gray area between the two. His spree unspools dispassionately, cold as a Colt .380.

Peter Rainer in the Monitor writes:

Mann’s hero-worshipy treatment of Dillinger is undercut by the film’s dreamtime existentialist aura. In reality, the working poor cheered Dillinger’s bank raids but in “Public Enemies” the Depression is just a prop, and so Dillinger’s populist hero status, what little we see of it, makes scant sense. (This is probably why we see so little of it.) Missing, as a result, is the knockabout tumult of a time when gangsters could ascend to the same stardom as the movie actors who played gangsters. Dillinger was, for a while, every bit as big as Jimmy Cagney. Mann pirouettes around the twin realities of the Depression and the star culture it engendered and offers instead a moody blues doominess. It’s a vacuum filling a vacuum.

So Depp becomes neither Clyde Barrow nor Robin Hood. Maybe, in his old age, he can play Bernie Madoff.


4 Responses to “There are no small roles.”

  1. Katie Says:

    I think the reviews are being unfair. I really enjoyed the film. It’s not supposed ot be a shoot-em up thriller and there is an amazing attention to detail which really brings out the truth in the story. I think Depp’s portrayal (under Mann’s direction) captures the sense of Dillinger as the new Robin Hood while not hiding the fact that under it all he was a criminal and a murderer.
    If you haven’t seen the film yet, ignnore the critics and go give it a fair shot.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      Ignoring the critics is probably good advice for any individual play- or moviegoer, unless, perhaps, there are Broadway prices involved. I say that after having spent 40 years writing theater criticism. In fact, if I dislike a play that the audience seems to enjoy, I always state that in the review. One of the critics of this film was dismissive of Johnny Depp’s performance in “Neverland,” but I thought he was good in that role. As George Ade wrote: It all depends.

  2. the best movie actors for me would be Val Kilmer and Morgan Freeman, they are really nice `

  3. Outdoor Rugs Says:

    i like movie actors that are not only good looking but can play a lot of differient roles *,’

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