In Public Enemies, Michael Mann directs Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard in the true story of legendary Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger (Depp)the charismatic bank robber whose lightning raids made him the number one target of J. Edgar Hoovers fledgling FBI and its top agent, Melvin Purvis (Bale), and a folk hero to much of the downtrodden public.

No one could stop Dillinger. No jail could hold him. His charm and audacious jailbreaks endeared him to almost everyonefrom his girlfriend Billie Frechette (Cotillard) to an American public who had no sympathy for the banks that had plunged the country into the Depression. But while the adventures of Dillinger's ganglater including the sociopathic Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham)thrilled many, 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 Number One. Hoover sent in Purvis, the dashing "Clark Gable of the FBI".

However, 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) who were real gunfighters and orchestrating epic betrayals from the infamous "Lady in Red" to the Chicago crime boss Frank Nittiwere Purvis and the FBI able to close in on Dillinger.

By
3 Jul 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 3 Jul 2009 - 12:00 AM

3.5
Lawmen and outlaws collide in Mann’s stylish, brutal drama.

The plural title of Michael Mann’s ambitious gangster epic Public Enemies suggests Mann believes there’s a very thin blue line between the Feds and the crims.

Enraged and humiliated by the brazen bank-robbing exploits of John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his gang, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) ordered his men to 'take off the white gloves" and do whatever is necessary to hunt down Public Enemy No. 1 and his cohorts.

His underlings responded by bashing and torturing suspects, including Dillinger and his girlfriend Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), although the lead FBI agent on the case, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) was a straight arrow.

Anyone familiar with this tale of Depression-era outlaws in Chicago would know it doesn’t end well for Dillinger & Co. So Mann relies on dazzling camerawork, strongly-drawn characters and copious violence to maintain momentum.

He succeeds to a point, although the film is over-long at 140 minutes and the narrative lacks urgency and tension. There are some amazing set-pieces, mostly involving interrogations and increasingly vicious shoot-outs, but the movie doesn’t resonate emotionally.

And Mann’s decision to shoot the film in HD is a double-edged sword: the close-ups are startling, but the characters’ sudden movements can look jerky and slightly out of focus.

The impressive prologue follows Dillinger and his friend Red (Jason Clarke) as they engineer a mass escape from the Indiana State Penitentiary in 1933. In a brilliantly choreographed scene, a wounded escapee is dragged alongside a speeding car while Dillinger holds grimly onto him, until the dying man loses his grip.

Robbing banks with seeming impunity with his gang including Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff), 'Baby Face" Nelson (Stephen Graham) and Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi), Dillinger became a folk hero of sorts as the public hated those institutions.

Dillinger’s softer side emerges when he meets Billie, a cloakroom girl who says she’s never done anything or been anywhere, until she agrees to join him. Depp brings his trademark cool, brashness and charm to the character as he explains to Billie that he just wants from life 'everything, right now." In one extraordinary sequence, apparently based on fact, Dillinger strolls around un-noticed in the Dillinger Bureau of the Chicago Police Department: perhaps he thought he was invincible.

Bale is his usual tight, dour guttural self as Purvis, although we learn little about the man beyond his single-minded determination to track down his quarry. There’s only one scene where the two antagonists go face-to-face. It’s brief and lacks impact although there is one memorable exchange when Purvis asks, 'What keeps you up nights, Mr. Dillinger?" His answer: "Coffee."

In her first US film after her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, French actress Marion Cotillard may have seemed an odd choice to play Billie, although her character is described as half-Native American, half-French.

Their romance lacks passion but as a wide-eyed smart cookie you can believe that she would throw in her lot with the handsome, charismatic gangster, despite the obvious dangers. Especially when he placates her misgivings by insisting, 'I’m gonna die an old man in your arms."

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Details

M
2 hours 19 min
In Cinemas 30 July 2009,
Wed, 12/02/2009 - 11

Genres