After last Thursday night’s all-media screening of Public Enemies, I was praising Michael Mann‘s gangster flick while two formidable critics — Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman and renowned essayist and filmmaker Godfrey Cheshire — were putting it down, wearing faint grins of dismissal as they said it really didn’t deliver.
“I hear you,” I said. “You’re saying it doesn’t do the thing you wanted to see it do. But…you know, it’s an art film!” Gleiberman’s reply was somewhere between skeptical and incredulous: “An art film?” “Well, yeah,” I said, feeling sheepish in the face of withering disdain. But why sheepish when it’s true? Public Enemies is an art film first and a popcorn film second (if not third or fourth). I’ve been at this racket for over 25 years and I know what I’m talking about. But on some level I felt slightly chagrined for having used a simplistic term.
And then this morning along came Manohla Dargis, the N.Y. Times critic, starting her review with the following sentence: “Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is a grave and beautiful work of art.”
Gleiberman didn’t end up writing the EW review — Lisa Scharzbaum did, giving it a B-minus.