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Public Enemies (2009)

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The Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s.



(screenplay), (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
1,460 ( 162)
1 win & 14 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Judd ...
Michael Vieau ...
John Kishline ...
Carol Slayman
John Scherp ...


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 garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


America's Most Wanted

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for gangster violence and some language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

1 July 2009 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Enemigos públicos  »

Box Office


$100,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$25,271,675 (USA) (3 July 2009)


$97,030,725 (USA) (28 August 2009)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


After his embarrassment before the Senate Appropriations Comitte, J. Edgar Hoover is telling his assistant to release a press statement through Walter Winchell to discredit the senator who humiliated Hoover. Walter Winchell was famous radio show host and New York news columnist who was friends with Hoover. Winchell also hung around with famous New York gangsters like Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello. See more »


The film begins with Melvis Purvis killing Charles Floyd and the film and is promoted to hunt for John Dillinger. In reality John Dillinger died July 1934 three months before Charles Floyd's death in October 1934. See more »


John Dillinger: We're having too good a time today. We ain't thinking about tomorrow.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The title of the movie is not shown until the end credits. See more »


References Heat (1995) See more »


Nasty Letter
Written and Performed by Otis Taylor
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Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

The devil is in the details
5 July 2009 | by (Berkeley, California) – See all my reviews

It's as hard to get a grip on Mann's impressive but vaguely off-putting new movie about John Dillinger's last thirteen months as it is to project yourself into the coldly beautiful digital images. The title itself provides a clue to the problem: it doesn't focus on the star criminal embodied by the charismatic and -- here -- coolly dashing Johnny Depp, whose quips and provocations in the trailer draw us into the theater to see him, only him, and his bold exploits. It points instead to the wider focus of Mann's book source -- 'Vanity Fair' writer Bryan Burroughs' 600 pages of meticulous research, 'Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34.' Relentless G-man Purvis (a convincing but bloodless Christian Bale) and his rising boss FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup, both droll and period) are part of another story as important as the bank robber's final wide ride, the story of the growing cruelty and relentlessness of the forces of American law.

Look at another title of a movie about a doomed but spectacular crime spree: Arthur Penn's 'Bonnie and Clyde.' That 1967 classic works so well because it's character-driven. Even in the sketchy but powerful scenes that outline John Dillinger's romance with French-Native American hatcheck girl Billie Frechette (Marion Cottillard, working wonders with limited material), character is subsidiary to function: "I rob banks," Johnny says. And then: "What else you need to know?" Well, quite a lot, actually, for a rounded character to emerge. Mann's movie is meticulous as to period look, to facade, but not to essence. Its street scenes are full of detail, its clothes immaculate and accurate. Taking place in 1933-34, however, it provides too few overt signs of the Great Depression. The film is also misleading in showing the Dillinger gang only robbing grand, marble-hall-and-column banks, when in fact they mostly robbed small and middling sized ones.

The overall result is a collection of contradictions. There is romance, but the effect isn't romantic. There's precise realism, but the overall effect isn't realistic. Perhaps the only unmitigated pleasure that remains is the images, the digital with its cold precision, its crisp edges even when many of the cameras are jiggly and hand-held, the depth of detail in darkness, the color that is neither bright nor faded, the sheer satisfying crispness of everything and everybody. And in this one aspect, a sublimely heightened vérité whose look is something quite new, 'Public Enemies' matches 'Bonnie and Clyde:' it makes us feel we're seeing period scenes with contemporary eyes. The best and most memorable images are the complex ones you won't see in stills where many actors are running back and forth in front of the camera, the gunshots are popping realistically in every direction, and there is no hint of the usual film chiaroscuro or highlighting, but the light is somehow beautiful. The cameras move too much, but they do rub your face in the action. What's gong on you may figure out later.

Maybe you can't avoid mythologizing when you shoot a movie about a famous Thirties bank robber and shouldn't try to, but Mann does. He's working, with great accomplishment, from that meticulous historical account, involving dozens of players on both the cop and the crook sides. Dillinger (and alternatively the totally unappealing Purvis) stay in the foreground. But there too is a contradiction, because the way Depp plays his part, witty, cold, and focused rather than warm and down-to-earth, his character ends up being impressive, but ultimately absent. (Contrast Warren Beatty's impotence and blinking charm as Clyde Barrow, an absence you yet want to cuddle.) Even when the characters are strong in Public Enemies, they don't get enough chance to interact. Dillinger is rarely with Frechette. His chance to confront Purivs is too brief, the moment when Purvis tells him he's to be extradited to Indiana and he quips, "There's absolutely nothing I want to do in Indiana." He's not facing off Purvis; he's playing to the audience.

This should have been one of the showpieces of the season, and it is indeed a blockbuster with class in a world of junk. Its virtuoso look and complexly orchestrated scenes will hold up with time, but despite a freshness in approaching familiar genre material, it's missing that certain 'je ne sais quoi.' Even though it's different, it lacks style, movie-making panache, playfulness, suspense, the ability to push a climax, the capacity to take a breather so the momentum builds up again. There's an impressive twittering machine functioning here on all its Ford V8 cylinders. But the light touch is missing, the capacity to make you say "Yeah!", to simultaneously stand apart and admire while utterly caught up in it all.

26 of 32 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
Worst cinematography in recent memory. backofthemind
I hated Dillinger and wanted him to die. What did I miss? iamdoingthat
Why was Carey Mulligan in this movie? rediguana
So incredibly factually wrong read the book. alphaboo
Melvin Purvis played by Christian Bale ending incorrect did not suicide worriedresident
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