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Author: Bill Ramey
June 30, 2009

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CAST: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Stephen Graham, Channing Tatum
DIRECTED BY: Michael Mann
WRITTEN BY: Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, Ann Biderman
RELEASE DATE: June 30, 2009
SYNOPSIS: "The Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, 'Baby Face' Nelson, and 'Pretty Boy' Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s."

Amongst the many things I like, include…

Christian Bale, Tex Mex, Johnny Depp, boudain, Michael Mann movies, action movies, The Dallas Cowboys, gangster flicks, and Batman.

Guess what? PUBLIC ENEMIES has all of that -- except for Batman, The Dallas Cowboys, Tex Mex, boudain, and Elivs.

The great Johnny Depp – who frankly, I think may be the best actor working today – stars as the infamous 1930s gangster John Dillinger, who carried out a wave of high-profile bank robberies in the U.S. during the Great Depression era. Assisting Dillinger is his now legendary crew of “Pretty Boy” Floyd (Canning Tatum) and “Baby Face” Nelson (Stephen Graham) – as well as his hot girlfriend Billie (Marion Cotillard, the next Catwoman?).

Now, the relatively new Federal Bureau of Investigation isn’t too hip on Dillinger’s bank robbin’ escapades, so FBI boss J. Edger Hoover enlists top agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to take down this popular, Robin Hood-esque rogue.

Now that a description of the basic plotline is out of the way, I’m guessing you all want to know what this movie is really about?

Is it a John Dillinger biopic? Not at all. Does it glamorize the bad guy (Depp/Dillinger) while vilifying the good guys (Bale/Pervis)? Nope. A “popcorn” gangster flick starring cinema faves “Captain Jack Sparrow” and “Bruce Wayne?” Negative.

What you’ve got here is essentially a series of altercations between the good guys and the bad guys with fistfights, jail-breaks, and shoot ‘em ups that takes place for the most part from the movie’s start to finish.

To this reviewer, PUBLIC ENEMIES is sort of like HEAT set in the 1930s. And thankfully, it comes without those gangster movie stereotypes that one would probably expect – especially for a film set during this particular era.

In other words, don’t expect to hear Depp’s Dillinger spouting off “look” and “sees” during the course of the movie. Nor does he smash a grapefruit into anyone’s face.

Like The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT (ironically, another film compared to HEAT), there’s no back story for Dillinger – he just “is” – and the audience is never privy to the “why” aspect of Dillinger’s criminal ways. I found that to be a particularly good thing as I really didn’t have any desire to see Dillinger’s “orgin,” you know what I mean? I also couldn’t care less about having him go through an “emotional journey” during the course of the film, ultimately leading to some sort of clichéd epiphany in the end.

I thought Depp was brilliant in the film. He convincingly gives us both an arrogant and cocksure Dillinger (a facade?) as well, as well as one that’s panicked, paranoid, and unsure –- especially as things around him start to go to hell in an handbasket.

While Johnny Depp is indeed the star of this show, don’t think that Bale is to be dismissed. Granted, Bale’s Purvis doesn’t have as much to do as the guy with top billing, but he still turns in a nice performance that I frankly thought was much better than what he did in TERMINATOR SALVATION. Yes he’s the good guy here, but Bale does a nice job portraying this decent man torn by the brutal and sometimes vile means he now has to take to take to get Dillinger.

Ironically, I was reminded of Bale’s Bruce Wayne when he realized what he’d have to have to become to take down The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT. Of course, Bruce Wayne doesn’t cross the line, but Purvis, well….

As far as the performances by the supporting cast, quality turns by all. I was particularly fond of that Marion Cotillard as Dillinger’s squeeze and Stephen Graham as “Baby Face” Nelson.

As much as I’ve enjoyed Michael Mann movies, I’ll never pretend to be a “Mann expert” or anything like that. So I’m not sure if this is characteristic of his filmmaking, but it appears that he shot much of it with handheld cameras, giving it documentary/reality show feel much of the time. I’m no cinematographer or anything, but I thought this especially worked with the film’s many action sequences.

PUBLIC ENEMIES is the best crime drama/gangster film that I’ve seen since THE DEPARTED. Now it’s a different deal, no doubt about it, but it’s just as good.

I don’t want to label this a “Popcorn Gangster Flick” just because there’s a ton of action, but there is a reason that this film is being released in the Summer, you know? That’s because it can -- and will -- appeal to those who want nothing but mindless, action-filled fluff.

PUBLIC ENEMIES reminds me a bit of last Summer’s THE DARK KNIGHT. Both have tons of action that will definitely appeal to those who dig and focus on that sort of stuff. However, I sure as hell don’t believe that you can pigeonhole either of these into the “fluff” or “popcorn” categories. Yes, both have that, but so much more to offer as well.

Like what you ask? Well…


I gotta say that having just sat through the stereotype for “Summer Poporn Movies” -- the soulless and inane TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE FALLEN -- PUBLIC ENEMIES was damn refreshing.

Now all of a sudden, I have a hankering for Chicago-style pizza (or maybe that Rod Ryan-style Buffalo chicken pizza) and perhaps some hotdish.


"Jett" is the founder of BATMAN ON FILM.

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