Movie Review – Public Enemies


Johnny Depp and Christian Bale are possibly the biggest male movie stars right now.  They’re certainly two of the most talented.  So when Michael Mann, an EXTREMELY talented director, hired these two juggernauts to go head-to-head in an action thriller based on John Dillinger’s bank robberies in the ‘30s, I got excited.  While I’m not a huge fan of gangster movies (The Godfather parts I and II being obvious exceptions), I AM a fan of Michael Mann, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

Though I’m a self-professed student of history, Dillinger’s criminal escapades are in no way a specialty of mine.  I don’t know how accurate the film was to the historical facts, but it was ultimately very entertaining.  So I’ll judge Public Enemies as a movie.  How did it hold up?  Pretty well actually.  The script takes an interesting approach for a crime-sprawling biopic, essentially eliminating the “bio” prefix and adding a simple “e” instead.  We don’t get childhood flashbacks.  We don’t get a heart-wrenching examination of motivation.  Depp’s Dillinger emerges as fully-formed and defined as Heath Ledger’s Joker, and is ALMOST as much fun.  The entire movie is a cat-and-mouse intrigue/action fest of Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis pursuing Depp’s charismatic Dillinger.  Scriptwriters Ronan Bennett and Michael Mann give Marion Cottllard’s Billie Frechette a real soul with precious little screentime and Billy Cruddup’s J. Edgar Hoover a very interesting and fairly accurate portrayal.  Dialogue is witty, fast-paced and intelligent.  The movie’s definitely not for movie watchers with low attention spans, as certain plot points could conceivably be missed easily if one is not paying rapt attention.  Still, I love movies that demand attention, and only think this furthers the positives of Public Enemies.  It’s a perfect counter-balance to the mind numbing stupidity of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Casting of Public Enemies is absolutely solid.  Johnny Depp shows a sly, smooth side I’ve never seen from him.  His Dillinger oozes a thick, molassesy charisma and a real lust for life.  He also portrays Dillinger as a man who’s never truly grown up or faced death head-to-head.  Christian Bale succeeds at something I’ve never thought possible…I highly disliked his character.  Bale brought humanity to Purvis, had a convincing Southern drawl, was essentially the righteous one, but also depicted an underlying insecurity I thought fascinating.  Marion Cotillard has truly emerged into Hollywood now.  She’s not a classic beauty, but has a wonderful, whimsical natural charisma that’s a perfect compliment to Depp.  I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.  Billy Cruddup was nearly unrecognizable as J. Edgar Hoover, and wonderfully portrays a seething frustration and subtle detesting beneath a rigid exterior.  Other notable performances include Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd, Jason Clarke as John “Red” Hamilton (a personal favorite of mine), and Stephen Graham as an unnervingly unpredictable “Baby Face” Nelson.

Technically, Public Enemies was pretty good as well.  Period sets were great.  Props looked shiny.  Special effects were exactly what they should have been.  In particular, the slow-motion bullet shot that finally kills Dillinger was an impressive feat, and very effectively done.  The length was perfect…editing knew what they were doing.  My major cinematographic complaint, however, was that there was TOO MUCH SHAKY CAM during action sequences!  I’m really starting to get sick of feeling like I personally filmed the majority of Hollywood movies as of late.  Cameramen and cinematographers are trained professionals, and the camerawork should show this.  Right now, I feel like P$’s ADHD chocolate lab could film a movie more smoothly than this.

Elliot Goldenthal’s score was pretty good.  I enjoyed his twangy bursts of bluegrass inspiration, acoustic guitar embellishments and overall minimalist approach, which I found appropriate.  I also liked the integration of the song “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” as a continuing theme.  It’s hands down one of the greatest jazz standards ever composed and the film definitely honors this fact.

Overall, I think Michael Mann has directed a solid movie.  Public Enemies is fun and intelligent, very well-acted, action-packed, and also thought-provoking.  It’s not a grand technical achievement, but it remains slick and nice to look at.  I couldn’t stand the gratuitous shaky cam action scenes.  Still, it’s solid.  Public Enemies is an 8/10 in my book.  Necca out.


3 Responses to “Movie Review – Public Enemies”


    Seriously though, I am also really tired of shaky cam. I just don’t see the point. I want to be able to see whats going on dammit!

    P.S. Christian Bale is the MAN.

    • Dave B. Says:

      I didn’t think a spoiler alert was entirely necessary since Dillinger’s death was historically accurate. I know I was somewhat ignorant of the specifics of Dillinger’s crime spree, but I went in knowing he died…maybe I should put up a spoiler alert?

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