Public Enemies (2009)
Director - Michael Mann
140 min; R
John Dillinger - Johnny Depp
Melvin Purvis - Christian Bale
Billie Frechette - Marion Cotillard
John Dillinger was a bank robber. And that’s it.
Johnny Depp portrays the 1930s Chicago-area gangster in a way that leaves little to no interpretation of who he is and what he wants, though you may wish you learned just a bit more. Stark, brazen, and intent on moving forward with his own conceived invincibility, Dillinger led life one day at a time and always focused on the next score, no matter who stood in his way. He is cocky, arrogant, suave, cool and collected.
Michael Mann does not direct a lot of films, but when he does you can generally expect something pretty spectacular. Directing just 3 films in the 90s, you tell me where there is a flaw: The Last of the Mohicans (1992) Heat (1995) The Insider (1999). Just like in his masterpiece Heat, this film takes to the extreme the shockingly realistic feel to gun fight between lawmen and criminals. What better era to encapsulate than the 1930s with Tommy Gunns blasting round after round after round after round? You will not be disappointed at the action in this film.
But is the action of the film enough to make this a really great film? I suppose it just barely misses out on some level. I found so much of this movie to give wonderful amounts of action, suspense, score, cinematography and acting, but on some level I think I did need just a little bit more about this one man wrecking machine. What do we know? We know he lives life fast. He robs a bank for the money, which he spends, and then robs another. He breaks out of jail like he’s walking through the park on a sunny afternoon. He picks up a woman with little more than a look and 2 sentences. But what does he think about in his alone time? What drives him? Where did he come from and where is he going? I don’t suppose I needed all that answered, but I would have liked some of it.
In pursuit of Dillinger is Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) appointed by J. Edgar Hoover himself to head up the Chicago office with the sole purpose of ending Dillinger’s reign of terror. Along the way they find themselves confronted by a bevy of other criminals in the Dillinger circle, including Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) who gives a masterful performance as nothing more than a hardened criminal. Bale gives a pretty good look at what it takes to be in charge of a unit without enough resources hunting a man with nothing but resources. Marion Cotillard brings Billie Frechette to life as Dillinger’s love interest, and the woman who he ultimately pledges his allegiance to, no matter what the cost. She needs him for something more, and he needs her (perhaps any ‘her’ would have done) to validate his own narcissism.
I am reminded of the wonderful film The Untouchables (1987) in which another wonderful cast of cops and robbers (Kevin Costner and Sean Connery and the pursuit of Al Capone - Robert De Niro) fight it out with flying bullets and civilians and storylines that can only end in the way they were intended. This film does much in the way of giving the audience a great show and great value for their money. There is a magnificent sequence in the tree-soaked hills of Wisconsin in which Bale and his band of lawmen encounter Depp and his band of thieves. The foot and car chases throughout the 15 minute scene are on par with the great bank heist of Heat, and this one takes place at night, outdoors.
See this film. It is very good. It just lacks a little bit of the character depth I would have liked to learn about this man, John Dillinger, who ‘robs banks’ and not much else.