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Public Enemies
5 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Michael Mann

Written By:
Michael Mann, Ann Biderman, Ronan Bennett, Bryan Burrough

Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Channing Tatum, John Ortiz, Billy Crudup, Emilie de Ravin, Giovanni Ribisi, Leelee Sobieski, David Wenham, Marion Cotillard, Shawn Hatosy, Rory Cochrane, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Stephen Lang, Carey Mulligan, Stephen Graham, James Russo, Laurence Mason, Matt Craven, Luce Rains, Spencer Garrett, Branka Katic, Peter Gerety, Jason Clarke, Joe DeVito, Marc Grapey, Geoffrey Cantor, Christian Stolte, Jennifer Badger, Don Frye, Alan Wilder, Britt Barrett, Suzy Brack, Richard Short, Angelina Lyubomirova, Michael Bentt, Bill Camp, Wesley Walker, Joseph Luis Caballero, Randy Ryan, Tommy Bartlett, Adam Mucci, Guy Van Swearingen, Adam Clark, Kurt Naebig, John Thurner, Don Kress, Holly Barrett, Emily Margaret Heitzer, Joseph Mazurk, Aaron Roman Weiner, Robert A. Young, Kris Wolff, William Nero Jr., Gareth Saxe, Rick Uecker, John Lister, Andrew Steele, Greg McAleer, Kelli Clevenger, Max Daniels, Shannon Edwards, Naomi Heilmann, John Rainone jr., John Judd, Bob Kaliebe, Thomas Kosik, Michael P. LaRaviere, Domenick Lombardozzi, Steve Mikula, Laura Otto, Gary Sedlock, Joe Sinopoli, Monica Sly, Dion Strowhorn Sr., Matt Ukena, Lisa Wolf, Abi McKenzie, Randy Bernales, Dan Latham, James Currie, Shanyn Leigh, J. Alec Holmes, Rebecca Spence, Ben Mac Brown, Beau Nelson, Joe Drilling, Madison Dirks, Chandler Williams, Tracey Ruggiero, John Michael Bolger, Nancy McCrumb, Michael Vieau, Suzanne Prescott, John Hoogenakker, Carl Paoli, Carlos Villalobos, Jordan Lawson, Donald G. Asher, Turk Muller, Brian Connelly, Claire Tuft, Jonathan Macchi, David John Adamson, Madison Dirks, Jeff Still, John Scherp, Daniel Maldonado, Jeff Shannon, Philip M. Potempa, Laurie McNeilly, Jack Henry Richardson, John Fenner Mays, Tom E. Ford, Martie Sanders, Mike Bach, Dale Caba, Ross Clifton, Eric Cooper, Shaun Daley, Ross Freier, Chad Manuel, J.R. Martino, Dailyn Matthews, Joel Paul Reisig, Mckeel Robins, Duane Sharp, Matthew Vuckovich, John Walski, Bernadett Belinda York, Tom Lodewyck, Jim Carrane, Tom Lustina, Jim Shinkle

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Public Enemies (2009)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
July 3rd, 2009

There are unmistakable elements of Bonnie and Clyde and The Untouchables in 'Public Enemies', an absorbing crime drama centering on serial bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his gang of cohorts, as they are pursued by persistent FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), who plans on either killing or capturing Dillinger, whichever comes first.

Dillinger was a lot like Capone, only he was not a mob boss, power and glory meant nothing to him, he did what he did because he seemed to enjoy it; he was ruthless, and handsome, and became a media darling, thriving on his infamy. At some point, Dillinger falls in love with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), the Bonnie to his Clyde. To Billie, crime is no deterrent. That side of Dillinger is exciting to her, even though she avoids becoming his submissive accomplice.

Director Michael Mann has some sterling credentials (he was responsible for Heat, Manhunter, The Insider, and Collateral), and his approach to the material is very low-key, does not contain a lot of flash. He wants to demythologize Dillinger, see the man behind the legend, and I think he is only partially successful, as Dillinger never emerges as a fully-fleshed out character. The same could be said of Purvis, and of Dillinger's subordinates.

The film is based on a book by Bryan Burroughs, which examines the birth and maturation of the FBI in the 1930s, while also offering a relatively well-researched account of Dillinger's life and career, since he was the FBI's obsession for several years, until his death in 1934, at age 31.

Billy Crudup plays J Edgar Hoover, who assigns Purvis to the case, expecting results, once Dillinger is cornered in Chicago, given sanctuary there by the former minions of Capone. Purvis eventually agrees to work with Charles Winstead (Stephan Lang), who leads a hardened group of Texas Rangers. Dillinger continually escapes from jail, is no longer sheltered by the mob, and fends for himself, accepting allies as he finds them.

The movie does not have much suspense, and is also not focused on action, though violence is certainly a necessity when dealing with a subject like this. Mann and his co-writers do not offensively or insultingly glamorize Dillinger's exploits, but they do draw a distinction between how he is viewed by law enforcement officials, and by the general public, who regard him as a Robin Hood-like figure.

Johnny Depp is truly one of our more valuable and versatile actors; his performance here is outstanding, his Dillinger is suave, cool, and a bit elusive, and these are all qualities that make him captivating. Bale, as was the case with Terminator Salvation, does not get a chance to do much, Purvis does not have much of a personality, and often uses excessive tactics when eliminating his targets, for which he should be reprimanded. Cotillard is beguiling as Billie, but disappears for long stretches and her absence is noticeable.

Production values are uniformly excellent; it may not be quite as immersive as, oh, Road to Perdition, but it does recreate the historical era well, and maintains authenticity through every scene. The relationship between Purvis and Dillinger is not as visibly or as compellingly antagonistic as the one between Elliot Ness and Capone, as showcased in The Untouchables, but seeing Depp in gangster mode reminded me of Donnie Brasco, though his character there was more complex and, dare I say it, more interesting. The 140-minute running time is not really an issue, either; I barely noticed, as it does not drag on like Transformers 2, or lack the substance to sustain such a length.

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