Public Enemies (2009)
Rated – R
Directed by Michael Mann
Starring: Johhny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup
Based on Bryan Burrough’s non-fiction novel of the same name, Public Enemies is a story about John Dillinger, a notorious bank robber who was applauded by the public and loathed by the police. I don’t have much knowledge of Dillinger so I cannot comment how historically accurate Mann’s adaptation was, but it sure was fun to watch.
Set during the Depression-era, John Dillinger and crew robs banks for a living. Played wonderfully by Johnny Depp, he is the star and soul of the film. But there are a whole lot of other gangsters and crooks in this film and Mann didn’t do a proper job introducing. Known for his shaky-cam style and quick cuts, those elements didn’t help make the movie any less confusing. In a 2+ hour long film, there was time to present all the characters appropriately but instead Dillinger’s various gangs were blurred.
The movie shows how slippery of a fellow John Dillinger was. Able to rob banks in under two minutes and escape maximum security prisons with a fake gun, it was impossible not to root for him even though you knew he was breaking the law.
The plot moves forward when FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover (Crudup) puts agent Melvin Purvis (Bale) on the job to capture Dillinger after Purvis successfully hunting down and killing Pretty Boy Floyd. The cat-and-mouse games begin with Dillinger always a few steps ahead of Purvis. The story thickens when Dillinger falls in love with Billie Frechette. This allows Purvis to exploit Dillinger’s only soft spot and utilize unethical techniques to eventually track him down and kill him.
Overall, the film felt like it was lacking something important. Whether that be a stronger plot, more insight to supporting characters, or more depth into the character study of John Dillinger (or just howabout a reason for why he is the way he is?), there was a missing element throughout. But for what the actors were given, they exceled in their roles, giving them life and color in a very dark and shallow film. This isn’t Michael Mann’s best, but it certainly felt more like a summer blockbuster than a serious Oscar contender.