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.