Archive for July, 2009


I Love Gangster Films But I Hate Jump Cuts

July 6, 2009

publicenemiesposterFor those of you that know me, you know that I can’t resist a good gangster film.  I love films like The Godfather, Scarface (the 1932 version), etc, so naturally, this one caught my interest.

Based on the non-fiction book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34by Bryan Burrough, this film tells the true story of bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and FBI Agent Melvin Purvis’s (Christian Bale) attempt to bring him to justice.  The film received a great deal of hype prior to its release, and perhaps that fact is one of its most significant problems.  I honestly expected a bit more from this film.  It had all the ingredients of a great period drama and it was based on an actual event.  And while the story and acting were good, my problems with the film were all technical.

One of the most obvious things I noticed was the jerky camera-work.  I realize this was most likely intentional, judging from the composition of some of the shots, but I am just not a fan of that style of filming.  That being said, I understand that it has its place, but when its used as the primary style for a film, it just becomes annoying and slightly nauseating (especially when you’re one of the unfortunate people who have to sit up front).  In my opinion, it was bad cinematography on the part of Dante Spinotti.  Spinotti has done decent work in the past (X-Men: The Last Stand, for example), and here’s hoping this style doesn’t carry over to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader next year.

While we’re on the subject of camera-work, I have to bring up the graininess of some the shots in the scenes taking place in low-light environments.  For a film shot in high-definition, these particular scenes certainly didn’t quite measure up. 

And now let’s get to something that just made me cringe: the jump cuts.  Granted, I only noticed two, but jump cuts are something that annoy me.  The first jump cut I noticed in this film was during the first bank robbery.  The lookout is positioning himself in the doorway and preparing to bring his gun up and all of a sudden there’s a cut to a similar shot for no apparent reason.  I had to ask myself if I really saw that, and was prepared to write it off as my imagination, but then the same thing happens during a later bank robbery before Dillinger enters a bank vault.  Being an editor, jump cuts are something I cannot easily overlook or forgive.  I even get upset at myself when I miss them.

Here’s something that’s easily forgivable, although extremely annoying: there’s a scene where Baby Face Nelson is drunk and asks his friends if they want to hear his James Cagney impersonation.  He then proceeds to quote one of Cagney’s lines from Angels With Dirty Faces.  That particular film wasn’t released until 1938, and the events of Public Enemiestake place in 1933-34.  I’m notorious for picking up continuity and accuracy mistakes and hate when they’re allowed to slip through.  Just ask anyone I worked with on the Algorithm: Black project; I was constantly on everyone’s case, sometimes to the point of making everyone else angry.

In conclusion, I can’t complain too much about the plot and the acting.  Johnny Depp and Christian Bale both did an amazing job portraying Dillinger and Purvis, respectively, without coming off over-the-top.  As far as gangster films go, it was entertaining and I’d recommend seeing it in the theater.  My only issues were technical issues, and to the average viewer who doesn’t care that much for such issues, it wouldn’t really be all that noticeable.

Give it a watch, check it out, let me know what you think!