Friday, August 21, 2009

History Blows, Gloury Rules

My preconcieved notions of Inglourious Basterds ran something like this: Tarantino's landfill consummation of film history, particularly his penchant for publicly elevating exploitative shlock to high art, would result in a film whose willing immersion in gruesome transgressions inadvertently captured the horror of life under Nazis as well as the fractured psyche of anyone who attempted to resolve it on its own terms. Just the look on Donny Donnowitz's face during Aldo Raine's speech spoke leagues in the trailer as to the extra-moral and deeply disturbed nature of his participation. But that's not the whole case.

As it turns out, Tarantino has done something else, something no less important: He's imbued the lives of his characters with a filmic relevance that a cinema verite approximation would trample over, not unjustifiably but just irrelevantly so when so much of our history is written not just by historians, but by authors of fiction. WWII for long has not just been something that happened, but a pliable backdrop for by other means genre exploration, be it espionage or romance or self-congratulatory narcissism (or all three in the superficial yarnification of Where Eagles Dare). Forget allegorical attempts at understanding the real, but the bending of reality to the personal stampage of creative will.

To take a reputably high art example - Gravity's Rainbow having less to do with the reality of WWII horrors than with Pynchon's acid-drenched rearrangement of the endlessly marginal information stored in his head. When it didn't directly engage in WWII it was off on Freudian tangents of peculiar libidinal intrigue, the deathly pall of supernatural/kabbalistic lore, sci-fi conceits and ahistorical occultist parallels drawn across enemy lines.

Thankfully, Tarantino isn't that kind of ambitious, his playing ground here is always related to the war but by the indirect two-way mirror of the war film, which is where we find the literature relevant to this context. The Dirty Dozen's death row inmates thrown into enemy territory with the chance of vindication had more to do with 60's political climate of racial strife, political self-determination via distrust of authority, and existential developments in the perception of morality.

Tarantino's concern with the present has less to do with current events than our fixation on the past and its portrayal. One level is through the aforementioned film genrifiction, the other is through cultural sensitivity. When pioneer Holocaust historian (because at one point it wasn't even a niche) and primary Shoah source Raul Hilberg was denied access to the Yad Vashem archives it had to do with his complicated portrayal of Jews during the Holocaust, mainly the disingenuously representative politics of the Judenrate that he believed were complicit in ongoing machinations of genocide:

"I had to examine the Jewish tradition of trusting God, princes, laws and contracts [...] Ultimately I had to ponder the Jewish calculation that the persecutor would not destroy what he could economically exploit. It was precisely this Jewish strategy that dictated accommodation and precluded resistance."

Another controversial assessment of the Jews during the Holocaust was Hannah Arendt's implication that "without Jewish help there would have either been complete chaos or a severe drain on German power." Further eroding the importance of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or the Bielski brothers is the unintended perpetuation of said passive reputation by conservative polemicists arguing against Palestinian violence by suggesting the Jews never resorted to blowing up restaurants, as if the resulting near-success of the Final Solution somehow makes that come off as a good thing.

And now, there's a furor (ahem) in the Jewish critical community about the film's parallels to terrorism and the glorification of its usage, the titular Basterds being a rag-tag band of psycopathic Jews enlisted by the American army to offset Nazi stability by spreading fear through their ranks with the use of scalping, insignia carving, brain bashing and any other sadistic means of disposal. (SEMI-SPOILER ALERT: Their ultimate goal is to blow up a movie theater where the four most important Reichsters will be attending the premiere of Goebell's new propaganda action film, a plan that unkowingly runs along a similar plot hatched by of the owner of the theater, a disguised fugitive and sole survivor of a round-up massacre that killed her entire family.)

While they should be more worried about what actual Jews are up to in the occupied territories the film plays with the grey area between the abject meaninglessness/inscrutability of existence and the cathartic release of cinematic analysis and reappropriation. The Basterds and the plot aren't merely wish fulfillment but a commentary on its non-existence. It's not the propaganda of Riefenstahl, where idealization supersedes honesty, but post-propaganda in which the framework of the presentation is aware of the facts' overwhelming bulwark against its fancies.

It's Tarantino's understanding of the variegated tonality of filmic representation with which he allows his protagonists to achieve canonical (in the religious sense) ascension to historical importance. The unabashed recycling of soundtracks, plot devices, setups and tropes are here used because they exist, not because they correlate to something particular, but how they make something particular relatable, the final irony here being how the parlor tricks reveal the inherent alienation/remoteness of the film's central dilemmas. The atmospherically epic western framing of deceptively placid interrogations gives weight to the disorientingly overwhelming plight of the victim, as in the opening sequence where a farmer's wits are strained trying to coolly please the prized Gestapo "Jew-Hunter" there to sniff out the family under the floorboard, soon becoming the origin story for one of the main protagonists.

Thus, Inglourious Basterds is not just the retroactively retributive war movie its adverts suggested but a delirious con game of mutable bluff. Tarantino's repertoire consists of pulp variables and encyclopedic auterism but all within the art of maintaining interpersonal cool with vested interest. Characters talk to each other, but almost like the other person's response is merely an expectedly sculpted reflection on whoever just spoke's well-kept facade, a cocky disposition requiring awestruck reassurance to make sure the trick is working.

To ensure the trick works, and the charm of its deceit endures, crafted are a tryptich of outsized archetypes. Christoph Waltz's SS Col. Hans Landa, a self-styled detective whose mark is every last hiding Jew, hence his moniker "The Jew Hunter," whose motivation is the satisfaction of superciliously outsmarting his victims. Brad Pitt, licking his chops, obviously relishing the chance to play deep-fried Lt. Aldo Raine, a classic southern charmer who draws on his part Apache heritage as an explanation for the guerilla warfare the Basterds unleash on the Nazis. And Melanie Laurent's Shosanna Dreyfuss alias Mimeux, the tight-lipped, no-bullshit proprietor of the cinematheque who doesn't need the allies to unbridle her fury. Almost no one here is wasted, even the generally repugnant Eli Roth as The Bear Jew playing what eerily resembles the modern Kappa Delta Jewish American with aimlessly xenophobic balls to spare here transplanted in a historical situation where his dick moves are actually useful.

Here, though, the violence is a mere intermittent startle. Instead, the action is almost entirely foreplay, consisting of interminably drawn out poker games where the playing hand is the conversational bluff and the stakes are death. One of the central ironies of the Holocaust is that it was perpetrated by what was until then considered the apex of civilization, emblematic of the intellectual and moral superiority of western culture. In Basterds, the use of manners, wit, and general congeniality are used primarily to ensnare the next possible victim, creating a juxtaposition between the tenets held dear by the hospitality management side of the self-aggrandizing clash of civilizations ideology, and the methods used to uphold their position outside of their diction.

But this being as much a war movie as it is a war movie about war movies the scripting of the diction is just as important. Tarantino isn't only revising history, but revising the fictional approximation of history, with its historical innacuracies, composite characterizations and unrelated genre excercises by taking it to its logical conclusion, where the wide gap between what happened and how it's now told becomes the point in itself.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

District 9 is a fucking chop-shop, go rent the Host

I'll start this off by confessing I have a thing for smart dumb action movies. i.e. the ones that revel in gloriously juvenile displays of testosterone but, in abeyance of substantial thematic subtext, instead layer the movies with a wonderfully convoluted game of mouse trap. For example, Die Hard 3 and the endless rounds of potentially fatal mindgames or Speed if you discount the first 30 minutes, the last 20 minutes and all the dialogue in between. I mention this mainly, because at best, District 9 is a smart dumb action movie. Unfortunately, its "smart" has nothing to do with its story as it comes saddled with a holier-than-thou socio-political claptrap that is in reality more problematic, and generally incoherent, than progressively enlightening.

First, it's supposed to be an allegory about South African apartheid. From the outset that is impossible because, well, it's set in actual South African apartheid. This means a few things. One, you can't have an allegory about a political situation set in the political situation it's supposed to represent, it's counterintuitive because the abstract logic of symbolism can no longer mask the story's disconnect from its supposed intent. Now, if the movie isn't an allegory and it's just commentary on apartheid then what it actually says about the situation is entirely insensitive to the actual victims of apartheid, that if aliens arrived even the black south africans would act like the white ones and therefore humankind is naturally a hobbesian battleground that doesn't deserve the slightest sympathy.

To an extent that would be an interesting premise since historically humans have been prone to being inhumane to one another, to the point of calling into question the logic of labelling an act of altruism or kindness humane. But that isn't the point of the movie, if a coherent one can be gleaned, and to glean one I have to discount everything that happens after the cannister explodes on the protagonist's face, which means everything after the first thirty minutes.

But seriously, is it really enlightened to shit on the victims of South African apartheid because hypothetically, in the event of accidental alien encroachment, they'd behave just as bad as the whites? Historically, they never even got a chance to exact revenge on their oppressors, which in peace studies circles begets the eventual dissolution of sympathy status because that's when they "become" their oppressors and are no longer pliable victims worthy of televangelical donation commercials. Instead, thanks to the enormous debt accrued by their oppressors while pillaging the country interminably, the ANC was forced to abandon the Freedom Charter's list of demands that popular resistance sacrificed its welfare for: public housing, redistribution of the stolen wealth, electricity, sewage, essentially national development. All was discarded in favor of an IMF approved structural readjustment plan that resulted in political victory for ANC (i.e. they were elected) but an actual victory for the white-run banks and multi-national investors who kept apartheid afloat in that the resulting privatization of every aspect of life in South Africa overrode any decision made on behalf of public welfare. Which is why South Africa is basically now Apartheid without "Apartheid."

The movie's agitprop is entirely ignorant of this and sits squarely within the banks of a blip in your high school history textbook on Free Mandela campus protests in the 80's. The only corporate malfeasance it engages with is standard sci-fi trope nefariousness involving genetic experimentation and arms procurement, of which any deeper meaning is obliterated when gene-spliced tentacle arms become super fucking cool after they can use alien technology to blow up half of Johannesburg, therefore it's not that it's bad, it's that it's being done by bad people aka the obligatory villains, which is where the "brilliant" parallelism comes in: The Nigerians.

Whereas the MNU medical attaches and corporate clerks bestir an air of intelligently cloaked evil, the Nigerians the aliens are forced to share space with are straight out of Mad Max's Beyond Thunderdome. Basically redistributing the reputation of Nigerian princes the movie depicts a settler society of tribal, primitive, monstrously vicious scam artists who run a chop shop in District 9 where they trick aliens into giving up their arms (both weapons and limbs) for catfood and then perform apparently backwards witchcraft on each other with it, while also putting up their women for inter-species prostitution. We don't have to pull out Steven Pinker to know that humans are hardwired with the capability to be assholes, but to completely ignore the environmental degradation and political non-existence refugees are forced to squander in and how that supercedes bourgoise notions of civility by upending self-determination with squalor is unnecessarily antagonistic.

Look no further than Primo Levi's discussion of what happens to congenial interpersonal relations and honest abidance of law when people are stripped of their identity, forced into a concentration camp and brutally dehumanized into skeletal pawns with both feet in the grave. Standard notions of civility and illegality are swept aside by forced hierarchical subordination, even between victims, and the use of theft and general by any means necessary scheming just to make it to the next day. Since the movie wants us to care about the Aliens being forced into concentration camps, as they are explicitly and wistfully referred to at some point in the film, then we have to consider what those conditions mean for everyone forced to live in them. Instead, the other refugees are mere goon stock with no purpose other than providing multiple will-they-or-won't-they escape scenarios, which is generally useless when the protagonist is such a fucking selfish twit (yes, with a name that plays on a common joke about white South Africans, which is merely clever).

And honestly, that's where the movie is actually entertaining. The suicide missions, the double crossing, the ultimate chase, the race against the clock, the explosive kill-or-be-killed shootouts. It's actually effectively rendered, especially with a budget of 30 million it blows away most 200 million dollar endeavors on the basis of action alone. But to suggest it's anything more than that is a cruel joke. At least the action here merits some plaudits, though, unlike last year's fanboy/critic crossover darling The Dark Knight which was incoherent on both thematic (for reasons I discussed here, if you also loved no country, brace yourself) and visual levels.

It's unfortunate that no one mentions the Host when discussing the canonical significance of District 9. Both films were done on an unimaginably miniscule budget, and both attempted socio-political resonance within the genre trappings of science fiction. But where District 9 eschews empathetic characterization for out and out diminution, and fumbles into amnesia its ostensible political coating, the Host serves up affectionately endearing misfits turned miscreants and a consistent engagement in the machinations their plebe status is repeatedly (and realistically) shut out of engaging with.

Korea's historical split is a PR debacle of disingenuously manichean proportions, a context duly and subversively deconstructed by the way the premise plays out. Jumping off from an real instance of callous U.S. military negligence, an army doctor dumps a veritable cache of toxic material into the Han river with an arrogant sense of impunity. Forward to the present and the careless negligence has birthed a literal monster, a genetic mutation foisted on one of the river squid. The beast's arbitrary selection of victims is countered with the story's focus on the dysfunctional family of a food cart vendor (fried squid included) near the bridge the squid calls home.

The proprietor is a wit's end grandpa whose other job is a familial balancing act. One son is a somewhat dim deadbeat with a heart of gold whose private-school daughter is an at-all-costs priority. Another son is a hollowed out drone in post-grad quarter life crisis whose rebellious political youth on behalf of democracy has been sequestered into an almost nihilistic capitulation to cosmic insignificance. The daughter is a professional Archer with an inability to bend her skills to the human concept of time and its management. When the monster wreaks havoc on its habitat's surroundings the granddaughter is swallowed into DOA obscurity and the family thrust into inexplicable governmental maneuvering.

The bystanders are rounded up into biohazardous interrogation by the fraternal collusion of the government and the medical establishment in a seemingly impromptu policy move straight out of the plague section in Foucault's Discipline and Punish. Any peripheral figures to the attack are labelled as potential carriers of a virus emitted by the monster's glandular secretions and are thus hosts whose medical importance supercedes their rights as people. Upon a phone call possibly from inside the belly of the beast all hell breaks loose along with the family and the previously ordinary barely-held together unit become fugitive band targeted by every establishment possible, whose plight is merely one example of the miasma faced by the general population.

The movie doesn't simply bait the imperial nature of U.S. military presence, overt invasion or not, but the post-dictatorial paranoia of a country that never got a chance to recover from its fascist disposition when it became a pawn in a territorial dick game of cold war perpetuity, WITH ITSELF. The dampened aspirations of the respective family member's trajectories are reawakened with temporal significance by yet another manipulation of representative governance in which closed door policy making puts everyone on the chopping block, something that gains signifance as the movie progresses as opposed to completely forgotten before it even gets a third of the way through.

Related post: The Dark Knight: Bummer, or No Country for Old Self-Righteous Billionaires

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"As They Say In Italy These Days, Take Off The White Gloves!" Public Enemies, Number One

In the opening, it's four years into the great depression, we're at the height of Dillinger's bask in transgressive, soon to be vestigial glory and he's paying a visit to Prison. He's being thrown back in to the place that gave him his backbone, that introduced him to the folks that would stick by him when his own pops didn't know any better than raising him by the knuckles. The cops, by the nightstick. But here it's not Dillinger's face that resonates the years behind bars, but a limp-struck elder inmate peg-legging a package down the assembly line with grit and determination. On his face is the law's reign, the penitentiary's manipulative grind, the years lost as a pliable doll for experimental normalization. What's in the box is his way out, and like in all other Mann films, from Thief to Heat to the Insider, it's who he's sharing it with that makes its potential success viable.

Thus, Dillinger ain't there to do time, but to keep the clock running, it's a jailbreak. The box has guns, and the inmates have manpower. If anyone falls out of line it's not just their ass but everyone they're running with. Someone in on the break but out on the way to do things wails on a guard despite Dillinger's calls for restraint, leading to a gunshot and a near-botch that makes the ordeal messier than it should have been. Like many a Mann film, the objective is done, but not without damage. It ends with Dillinger dragging an inmate who's been shot in the back out the door of his car, reading each other's eyes, acknowledging their mortality and letting go.

In the following scene Dillinger leaves a safehouse/farmland, his coattail, collar desperately pleaded with by a girl that lives there, she doesn't want to stay, she wants him to take her along. The place is broken down, it's in the middle of nowhere, and she'd rather be on the run from the law than living a destitute and meandering existence scraping by like a shovel at a cemetary. Nothing more really needs to be said, the prisoners were clamoring to get the fuck out, and the first people they meet on the outside don't feel much freedom either.

First time I saw public enemies I had just come out of a friend's college graduation party where in the course of an hour or so I downed three or four mojitos before venturing forth. Hazy, uncomfortable, and with couldn't care either way company, it was a genuinely unpleasant experience that caused flaw-baiting to be my M.O. The digital cinematography came off shaky and drained and left me nauseous (i'm pretty sure that was an half-drunken side-effect, because this time the images burst forth with searing clarity). Also, I made the mistake of reading the first 60 pages of the book the movie's based on, which was stupid, because the movie gets its thrust from Mann and everything that name brings to mind. It felt underwritten, schematic, and even disingenuous. According to the person who's book the movie's source material is apparently indebted to, it is (as well as wikipedia). But that's besides the point, and more to the point, whatever you're looking for. It's there. Maybe not in the most labored exposition, but still there.

Let's take the use of Ten Million Slaves as a theme song. Otis Taylor grew up playing the banjo, but for a time dissociated himself from it when finding out its African roots were misappropriated by whites through bluegrass minstrel shows. The banjo is heavily featured on the song, appropriately, about uprooted, shackled Africans and their grounded, lost homelessness. It's told by a narrator whose dire modern circumstances are combated by reminding himself that it was worse for his ancestors, but still is well aware of the prospect that in the end he's all alone. Mann is meticulous in his set-ups, it most likely was not just used because the song has the refrain "don't know where they're going, don't know where they've been" and retires at lone wolf despondency. The film is underpopulated by black characters except for a backup breakout inmate and a safehouse owner, but the film's focus on an increasingly blurry forward motion where the law reigns on neither side of the coin and spins deliriously out of control brings up something more far-reaching. That it was once a slave-owning country is something I don't think is lost on it, that the opportunistic pursuit of pawns is the order of the day, that the crime networks are poor kids shackled by the prison system and written out of societal acceptance into a den of confidants is also something I don't think is lost on it, it's all even cheekily referenced in a courthouse sequence with a precautionarily shackled Dillinger leading to farcical, guilt-baiting proclamations by his lawyer each with a twinge of the real.

Partially disserviced, maybe a little. Purvis in real life was a fair-haired, womanizing southern charmer with a black manservant, his own pad in a time where all his partners were cooped up six to a place, his own horse at a stable and an aristocratic sense of entitlement. He was a joker in the depression's face, a skillful goon on the right side of the law, and could have been a different kind of worthy equal to Depp's characterization of Dillinger. I was sad those aspects of him were overlooked but came to terms with what Mann gave us instead. Bale's Purvis is dark, gloomy, with just enough sharp insight to both notice the overhwelmingly gaping holes in J. Edgar Hoover's superficially taut but wholly inept force and not be swallowed up by them. He is constantly failed by his men, and his superior wants nothing of him but a photo op and a tighter grip...on power (according to the book speculation arose that that desire went unrequited for Purvis as well).

Both Dillinger and Purvis require men who are not just loyal but on the same footing with an eye for what they can't account for, so that when they've got your back they've got your head too. Baby Face Nelson's foul, selfish erratics put Dillinger and others in danger. Dillinger's whole gangster scene is being bought out by reconfigured criminality, the gameplanning associates setting their sights on a monopolization of the gambling empire with shut outs mirroring the survivalist industrialism that widened the income gap in inventive new ways (anti-trust, shmanti-trust!). On the side of Purvis, he has to call in older, experienced gents to see the job through, even then he's continuously faced with potential disillusionment by a case whose real-world ramifications have dwindling import when it comes to who he's has chasing but serious concern when it comes to who he's chasing them for.

Hoover's real start was as an aid to Alexander Mitchell Palmer in the late 1910's red scare that rid the U.S. of its radical bent. The Emma Goldman's and Alexander Berkman's, wobblies and suspected workers were either jailed (10,000 by 1920) or deported, the one legit candidate for a real life socialist party in the states was jailed into discontinuity. Hoover's known for his sabotage of the civil rights movement in the name of red-baiting supremacy, but his work was already done for him by the time he was ready to make a name for himself. When we first see him in the film he's almost done for, a goof with an eye for sharp threads (his men are models, not cops) and front page composition (Purvis is photo-opped into his job as taskforce leader) with no clue about law enforcement and in desperate need of a fix for legitimacy. In a bid to federalize his bureau of investigation he's going to latch onto the public zeitgeist and shift the tides against folk heroes in the making. He's rarely on screen but every appearance makes clearer his lack of interest in public security and increasing interest in the power it avails.

A key moment comes after yet another embarrassment, and this time the law isn't the other side of criminality, instead it mirrors its logical conclusion, fascism. Hoover admonishes his men and tells them to step their game up, his point of reference, Moussolini. His accent even switches into correlative German lunacy. "As they say in Italy these days, take off the white gloves!" And so continues the movie's descent into power's excess as the main goal becomes to break down the resistance, turn people against each other, and rough up whoever doesn't comply in ways that would end up in court if not for surreptitious impunity.

The movie's rep in some places makes it out to be a hollowed out bullet, with the powder depleted and the shell lodged red-dry in crumpled disuse. It's an apt metaphor for the seemingly unsensational depiction of the end of an era, one of folkloric gangsters with cultivated populist reputations, who despite not redistributing any wealth instead represented luxuriously selfish transgressions, hitting up the banks that turned people out and taking the slice only the upper crust and the powers that be could afford. Of course the myth would remain, but the direct interaction with mythic progenitors would dissolve. But the movie is vital, it's emotional, alternately charming and depressing, but never static.

Consider the central relationship between Dillinger and Billie Freschette. Her insecurities are a startlingly astute observation of class differences and even ethnic ones. She willingly dishes out her French half but hesitantly intones her Native American one. Dillinger's fascination with her leads to her fascination with his fascination, dumbfounded at its intersection with her humble and working class coat-girl trappings. Working in a nightclub and waiting on the well-to-do places her in direct contact with what she doesn't have as well as the glacial indifference and insensitivity afforded someone of her background. We don't need to see her past to gather how much damage her merely functional use in other's lives has done on her psyche.

A Mann motif from even before Thief but accentuated succinctly by Neil McCauley in Heat is the rule "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." Mann being a multi-layering parallelist this inadvertently applies not just to the criminals but the cops that follow them as well, and the unfortunate byproducts, the repercussions it leaves on their immediate intimates. Here Dillinger intends to sweep Billie up into the fold, alleviating her insecurities by allowing his variation on the theme. When she points out the snobby disregard of co-patrons at a fancy restaurant to her three dollar dress and its socio-economic implications he tells her it doesn't matter where anyone's from, it's where they're going and sooner or later she's the next moment in a precarious and perilously linear game of connect the dots.

Billie isn't a cop or a criminal but like Dillinger her life was also moment to moment even before she met him. It's not entirely insightful as to the full psychology behind her decision to join a bombastically romantic brute who beats up customers to let her know her new, liberated job is to be his girl, but whether the awfully insistent stranger's violence against an impatient customer seems extendable to her is something that, to her, might have come off as besides the point and that violence, potentially, a cathartic release her precarious allegiance to coat-girl duties doesn't afford her the opportunity to experience.

Dillinger's behavior in the first half of their relationship simultaneously reeks of testy macho possessiveness and earnestly romantic devotion. But it's not taken for granted. Like Caan’s Thief pulling meathead moves on a waitress in a one-shot bid to secure the idyllic lifeplan whose dull pleasantries he fought for against the violent dehumanization of prison. Like Farrel’s Crockett holding back tears while pupil-darting insecure in a lovelocked stare with Gong Li, undergoing self-sabotage with platitudes about impossibilities. The posturing isn’t a dick-swinging writing flaw, but a central component to the characters’ construction. Mann is well aware, and his men in denial of how much bullshit their frosty, bravura exterior lets slip, what roiling, mushy vulnerabilities lay repressed for varied perceptions on getting the job done (for what? for whom?). Here Mann has Depp’s Dillinger actually break down and fucking cry for a minute. He has them swearing devotion and future promises at each other while playfully sitting in a bed of snow like it was Eternal Sunshine without the anti-Kate Winslet (in this case, Marion Cotillard) vibe in the writing.

Another way standard notions of masculinity are subverted is in the inter-male relations and the way Mann portrays them. I'm not going to full on rah rah latent homosexuality because I think that's partially a cop-out and nearly obfuscates a much larger concern, which is the complications that arise from deep yearnings fiercly held back in the face of falling on the wrong side of both gender and orientation binaries. In Thief, there's these puppy eyes between Caan and his prison mentor in the penitentiary phone booth. They try not to look away, and are constantly following each other's pupils. There's a deep love there. People who dismissed risible dialogue in Vice were missing the deep facial intonations and the repressed frustrations batted between Crockett and Tubbs. Half their dialogue is in their faces, and in those gestures are couple's spats and fraternal bonds either over separation anxiety or cocking guns. In Public Enemies there's a scene where Dillinger holds onto his right hand man as he's dying, the words imparted are of heavy import, but there's undulating breathing and tenacity in their interlocking gaze. That there might be an undercurrent of "if this were another time, another place, maybe the Roman army" is not lost, but to zero in on that as the solely legitimate explanation would be a disservice to the layers.

Finally, as regards precarious postures and their vulnerable undertow, when Dillinger locks eyes with a gangster fable's motto to "die the way you live" it's just as much scared shit, know nothing else now intuition as fully aware ascension. The movie's a fever dream, but not one that withers away once the sun peels your eyelids back. Its historical accuracy is less important than its canonical discourse with gangster lore and Mann's continued dissection of his world philosophy, and as such its ideas and the way it offers them are timeless.