In Public Enemies, acclaimed filmmaker Michael Mann directs Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard in the story of legendary outlaw John Dillinger (Depp) – the charismatic bank robber whose lightning raids made him the number one target of J. Edgar Hoover’s fledgling FBI and its top agent, Melvin Purvis (Bale), and a folk hero to much of the downtrodden public. No one could stop John Dillinger and his gang. No jail could hold him. His charm and audacious jailbreaks endeared him to almost everyone – from his girlfriend Billie Frechette (Cotillard) to an American public who had no sympathy for the banks that had plunged the country into the Great Depression. But while the adventures of Dillinger’s gang – later including the sociopathic Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) and Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi) – thrilled many, J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) hit on the idea of exploiting the outlaw’s capture as a way to elevate his Bureau of Investigation into the national police force that became the FBI. He made Dillinger America’s first Public Enemy No. 1 and sent in Purvis, the dashing “Clark Gable of the FBI,” to bring him down. But Dillinger and his gang outwitted and outgunned Purvis’ men in wild chases and shootouts. Only after importing a crew of Western ex-lawmen (newly baptized as agents) and orchestrating epic betrayals – from the infamous “Lady in Red” to the Chicago crime boss Frank Nitti – were Purvis, the FBI and their new crew of gunfighters able to close in on Dillinger.
Michael Mann’s movies are some of the absolute best out there. He has a first-person style, with a grainy film quality, that contributes something to his films that no one else is able to capture. If you think about it, “Heat,” “Ali,” “Collateral,” and “Miami Vice” all had these similar badass attributes in common. He’s no stranger to top casting for his main roles either.
It’s the 1930’s. The Great Depression is under way and people are just barely making ends meet. Life is difficult for basically everyone. Everyone that is, but John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). The world was his oyster, or at least it was in Chicago. He and his group of organized crime supporters could walk in any bank, and walk out with whatever they pleased. The people literally handed the bank’s money to them with everything but a bow. What made Dillinger and his gang so respected, but not quite feared, was their respect for common man. They weren’t interested in robbing working folks, they had their sights set on taking down big business. Whether the police liked it or not, the man they named “Public Enemy #1” was a well-liked guy.
Something needed to be done to put a halt to this nonsense, so J. Edgar Hoover hurried and put his thinking cap on. He realized that he needed to hit the Dillinger gang, and would have to take them down to their knees to set an example. He would need the help of someone a cut above the rest, to bring Dillinger down. Enter agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). He’d be the right man for the job, he just would need support from a solid team to back him up. Time is of the essence, for there aren’t many banks left unshaken by Dillinger and his associates “Pretty Boy Floyd” and “Baby Face Nelson.” Hopefully Agent Purvis can bring Dillinger to justice before he becomes more famous than Robin Hood.
When I read “Michael Mann”…..”Johnny Depp”…”Christian Bale”…and “1930’s gangster movie,” I preordered my ticket for this movie before the script was finished. It’s like taking “The Untouchables” and spit shining it with the hottest guys in Hollywood. If you want to think about it in an amusing way, Michael Mann took Captain Jack Sparrow and made him a gangster, and then took Batman, and gave him a badge. Seriously though, that had be cooler than Ramen Noodles. I was so pleased with this movie, that I got angry when friends of mine talked down on it. They complained it was too slow, or too in your face, with the first person point of view style. I’m sure “Twilight: New Moon” pleased those friends of mine much more. “Public Enemies” jumped out of the gangster movie box, away from “Goodfellas” and “Casino” and hit the ground running. It does have it’s slow parts, but for god’s sake, it’s the 1930’s. The last thing I want to hear from someone with an iPod or a Bluetooth, is that a Great Depression movie is too slow. Clearly they must not have read the synopsis. Definitely grab this one up, it may not be a holiday hit, but it’s a damn good time.
Blu-ray special features include a number of featurettes such as “Larger Than Life Adversaries”, ‘Michael Mann: Making Public Enemies’, ‘Last Of The Legendary Outlaws’, ‘On Dillinger’s Trail: The Real Locations’, ‘Criminal Technology’, and lastly – a commentary with Michael Mann.
Review by Charlie Giltenboth