Public Enemies

Public Enemies (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-43” by Bryan Burrough, Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” stars Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, a notorious bank robber in the 1930’s. Along with his friends, they rob banks but do not take the citizens’ money, have intense showdowns with the police, and find intense ways to escape from jail. Just when I thought Dillinger was simply a tough (yet charismatic) criminal with some immutable principles, he falls in love with Billie Frechette (the lovely Marion Cotillard) and the couple’s bond is challenged by going through myriads of trials. What I love about this film was its action scenes. They reminded me of that infamous scene in “Heat” when all the audiences could hear were silence, rushing footsteps, and guns going off. Those scenes, especially the climactic cabin scene at night, are reasons enough to see this film. Another aspect I liked about the picture was that it didn’t try too hard to be cool. With most gangster films I encounter (even though I enjoy them), at times I’m taken out of the experience. With “Public Enemies,” not for one second was I distracted because the scenes had an innate organic flow despite the film being a period piece. Lastly, I enjoyed the idea that we didn’t know much about Dillinger’s past. There’s something about him, right off the heart-pounding first scene, inclined me to think that how he reacts to certain situations is more important than how he became the way he is. However, this film definitely had its weaknesses. Now that I had more time to think about it, I felt that it was a bit too long. While I did enjoy how the FBI agents (led by Christian Bale) found ways to find their targets (sometimes through illegal means), they were a bit repetitive. I get that Mann was trying to show that there are no good guys but did we really need to see Bale getting theatened by his superiors? Right away, I knew that he was a serious man all about reaching his goals (but still maintaining some sort of ethics) because if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been assigned to catch Dillinger. If the film had been about two hours long, it would have been leaner and some weaker extraneous scenes could’ve been cut out. Nevertheless, “Public Enemies” will reward the audiences who are willing to think about the subtleties of each character. If not, then the very realistic action scenes should be more than sufficient.

3 replies »

  1. I was sort of reassured by the fact that you liked this movie so much. I really look forward to it, but I’ve read some mixed reviews. The thought of Johnny Deep leading a Michael Mann movie sounds terrific to me

  2. I think people (I know some of my friends did) expected it to be a typical action film because of the previews. But it really is more of a period film and a character study with some defining (and very exciting) action sequences. I hope you enjoy it!

  3. I did enjoy it, mostly. As you said, the action sequences are excellent, drawing on Mann’s unrivaled abilities of a composeur of images. Also, I think Johnny Depp mostly hit the right mix of serious- and playfulness as Dillinger.

    When I’m not wholly satisfied, it has to mainly with two things. First, I think Christian Bale played his role in such a stoic that he eventually failed to convince me that there was anything really at stake for his character. Another weakness might be that the movie too closely singles out Dillinger from what was a whole culture of crime, thus failing to explain the broader forces at play in the FBI prestigios hunt for him. Some of the scenes to hint at this (for example when Dillinger is interviewed after having been arrested early on) were highlights to me.

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