This is the story of the last few years of the notorious bank robber John Dillinger. He loved what he did and could imagine little else that would make him happier. Living openly in 1930s Chicago, he had the run of the city with little fear of reprisals from the authorities. It's there that he meets Billie Frechette with whom he falls deeply in love. In parallel we meet Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who would eventually track Dillinger down. The FBI was is in its early days and Director J. Edgar Hoover was keen to promote the clean cut image that so dominated the organization through his lifetime. Purvis realizes that if he is going to get Dillinger, he will have to use street tactics and imports appropriate men with police training. Dillinger is eventually betrayed by an acquaintance who tells the authorities just where to find him on a given night. Written by
Public Enemies is an alright docu-crime-thriller that, thought well-made, ends up coming out dry. Many of the scenes are well paced, but in its running time the film feels like a very rushed overview of the final years of John Dillinger. What I mean to say is that this is a good movie, but you probably won't leave the theater feeling like you've learned anything about John Dillinger, other than trivial facts. The movie never really gives Johnny Depp a chance to shape the character into a believable icon because as I previously stated this film feels more like a dramatized overview of Dillinger's career instead of focusing on the man himself.
Now, Johnny Depp is a fine actor, and he reminds us in this movie that he isn't only a go-to man for quirky, weird, whimsical, and bizarre characters. In Public Enemies Depp reminds us that he is talented as a traditional actor and that he is still one of the best in Hollywood today. The problem is the script he is given for Public Enemies never lets him expand on anything regarding John Dellinger as a person. In Ridley Scott's 'American Gangster' Denzel Washington was given a chance to really emphasize the qualities he felt reflected his view of Frank Lucas. Public enemies, Johnny Depp never truly gets to define what he feels are the most important aspects of his portrayal of Dellinger because often the film gets too caught up in the action and events instead of its characters.
Christian Bale bounces back after a sub-par performance in 'Terminator: Salvation' and it's good to see him working his voice manipulation ability again, because I for one was beginning to think he'd gotten stuck on his Batman-style growl. Playing the FBI agent pursuing Dillinger he is an interesting character due to his dedication and could have been a really interesting character, but like Depp, Bale never really gets a chance to try and expand on his character.
The music isn't anything you haven't heard before in previous crime films of this sort, but for the most part it works. I wouldn't buy the soundtrack to this film, but it certainly didn't take away from the experience. Also, songs from the 30s are played throughout, and most of the time they manage to fit into the story's many montage scenes very well.
Director Michael Mann seems a tad bit off when compared to some of his previous films. He often goes for a look that makes the audience feel that they're in the middle of everything, and that's good in small stretches, but I felt he used this technique too often and I found myself growing a tad bit dizzy at times, and had a desire to see what was going on in the shootouts. I found it strange, that with his recent films such as 'Collateral', where the characters had been the center-focus of the entire film, he could then make a movie about one of the most infamous criminal minds and have it be more about the history than the characters who lived it.
The thing that is most fascinating about this film is the costumes and sets. The men and women behind these really outdid themselves and created a very authentic view of 1930s Chicago. This aspect of the film alone makes it worth seeing! Every costume and set seems to have been made with the utmost attention to detail, and the final result is very pleasing to the eye.
The final product in an okay docu-drama on the life of one of America's most infamous criminals, but in the end you really don't discover anything about John Dillinger that you couldn't have found out by looking him up on Wikipedia. So this is a pretty film to look at, and with Depp and Bale it's a good way to introduce those unfamiliar with Dillinger to the criminal, but if you were looking for a character study on the bank robber you may find yourself a tad-bit disappointed.
I wouldn't come close to calling Public Enemies one of the best movies of the summer, or of the year, but when compared to several other films that are currently being screened I would still highly recommend it. With movies like 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' out there your money is best spent on Michael Mann's Public Enemies.
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