Well, there isn’t a wasted frame in Dillinger, the first proper film directed by John Milius, one of the original movie brats (and apparently the inspiration for Walter, in The Big Lebowski).
As a UK script consultant and script writer for hire I’ve studied Milius’ career. He worked as a script consultant too (probably responsible for the famous U.S.S. Indianapolis speech in Jaws, and other bits of brilliance in The Godfather – although he’s not credited in either film.) He is the guy that wrote ‘Make my day…’ for Clint Eastwood.
Milius is a fan of firearms (so, am I, but I don’t shoot animals – or people), he likes strong male leads, mythic themes and is a very right wing (I’m very left wing). He also wrote (and was fired from) Jeremiah Johnson – he was then rehired by director Sydney Pollack. To be fair to John, he’s a bit of a character by all accounts – he once described filmmaking as like setting up a kind of robbery or score – the script being the plan, the budget being the money you steal – it’s apt.
Getting back to Dillinger, it moves fast, feels authentic, has probably one of the best casts ever and doesn’t look like its choreographed, the action feels real, the bullets hurt and you never know where they’re coming from. It’s a far better film than Bonnie and Clyde and looks and feels almost like a documentary.
But this is all designed, it’s very clever, this is how it’s meant to work. And to prove this, there are supposed accidental moments of lyricism and mysticism in the shots, poetry in motion, between the countryside, the robbers and the killings. The film doesn’t dwell on these at all – but it is mythic, and it’s meant to be.
Of course we can’t leave without mentioning Warren Oates. Michael Mann tread very similar territory to Dillinger with Public Enemies (2009) – that film felt stale, weighed down by Mr Depp and Mr Bale. Warren Oates and Ben Johnson do this much better, with ease, panache and aware that filmmaking is really like a crime…
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour