Directed by: Michael Mann
Cast: Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard, Christian Bale, Billy Crudup, Stephen Graham
Running Time: 2 hrs 20 mins
Release Date: July 1, 2009
Led by J. Edgar Hoover (Crudup), the Feds put Melvin Purvis (Bale) in charge of trying to take down American’s public enemy No. 1, gangster John Dillinger (Depp), during a booming crime wave in the 1930s.
Who’s It For?
Most people will be content seeing Depp look good in some classic suits. For the rest of us, this is a great exploration of good and evil (and all the levels of gray). Plus, these are shoot-outs you can feel thanks to Mann’s direction.
Expectations: I knew, as do most, the story of John Dillinger, but I’ll keep most of that in the PLOT SPOILERS section. Anything with Mann, Depp and Bale … I expect good things.
Johnny Depp as John Dillinger: Did I mention he looks good in the suit? OK, good, he also seems like a natural holding a Tommy gun. Depp has played drunk confidence (Jack Sparrow) and delusional confidence (Willy Wonka) but here he just gets to be the best, coolest, most confident man in the room. It fits. I would have liked to see a little more planning on Dillinger’s bank robberies, but otherwise I can’t complain. We know he’s a bad guy, and we can’t help cheer for him the entire time.
Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette: And here I was worried that Cotillard would disappear after her Oscar-winning performance in La vie en rose. I’m done worrying. When Billie and John meet, it’s a classic Hollywood moment. When he spells out his love for her, it’s a classic Hollywood moment. Believing in their connection is necessary considering the decisions that Dillinger makes. We believe. And now I believe Cotillard will be around for many years with the Oscar just being a start.
Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis: It didn’t take long, but we can forget John Connor. Bale nails Melvin … not the toughest name on the block and that doesn’t matter. The layers of intelligence, bravado and fear that Melvin goes through on the hunt for Dillinger make us even want the best for him, even though it could mean the worst for Dillinger.
Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover: Crudup nails the hiccupy voice of Hoover. It’s just hilarious that people used to talk this way in the states. You can tell he wants to do best for America, but it seems looking good is just as important.
Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson: Graham isn’t in the film much, which is good and bad. This film doesn’t feel like “Enemies” but instead “Enemy” with Dillinger getting almost all the focus. Baby Face Nelson looks and acts like a character, not a real person. Dillinger is annoyed with his presence, and so am I. I needed to see more of what made Baby Face tick.
Talking: Thank goodness it didn’t go the route of “See, you aren’t going to get me coppers, see.” There are repetitive moments coming from Depp’s dialogue. He continuously talks about living in the moment and taking what he wants. We never get a moment of doubt from the man. What isn’t said is more powerful, with Dillinger taking the loss of his friends pretty hard.
Sights: There is a personal feel that you don’t get with other historical stories and it’s all thanks to Mann. The choice of handheld cameras is perfect. It fills you with an intensity, like you’re there with Dillinger and his gang. Chicago looks great and from what I understand, Mann made sure to use actual, historically accurate locations throughout the film. Have I mentioned Depp in a suit?
Sounds: Guns are cool. Not the guns that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen breaks out, but I’m talking about all the guns used here. Mann knows this, and keeps the score to a minimum in almost every gun fight. But when the score does show up … it sounds like doom. It let’s you know bad things are coming and even makes you squirm in your seat a little bit.
Best Scene: In the forest, at the hideout in Wisconsin, Dillinger tries to get away with John “Red” Hamilton (Jason Clarke) but some of the best lawmen are hot on their trail, and one has a big gun. Every time that gun blasts through a tree, I am nervous. Every time. It’s the best gun fight, in a film filled with great gun fights.
Ending: Such a classic line. “Bye, bye blackbird.” It’s the only sad moment in the movie for me even though I feel a range of other emotions throughout the film.
Questions: How much money did Dillinger have? He felt desperate enough to work with Baby Face Nelson
Rewatchability: Yes. Even though the film is over two hours long it doesn’t exhaust me. It’s worth seeing again for the great performances and the technical work that Mann puts into the film.
Public Enemies could easily be called Public Enemy No. 1 because the clear focus is on Depp’s Dillinger. Even more powerful than that is the way Mann controls this film’s look and feel. It’s Mann’s movie more than Depp’s, which is amazing considering his star power. I was hoping to see some classic shoot-outs and Mann delivers. Public Enemies also shows the lengths that the American justice system sank to in order to capture a man who became a celebrity, a modern day Robin Hood who cared and understood about his place in history even while he was ripping off banks. Public Enemies isn’t my No. 1 of the year, but it’s close.
Final Score: 9/10