Friday, July 4, 2014

Public Enemies (2009)

Director Michael Mann does love his crime dramas. I have to admit, I love watching them. So when he revealed that he was going to tackle the story of bank robber John Dillinger, I was excited. This seemed like a great combination of period film and crime drama. Could this be Last of the Mohicans meets Heat?

John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is at the top of his game. He can rob banks in less than two minutes. He’s adored by the public for his dashing ways and his mantra of only taking the government’s money, not the people’s money. He lives by the Tommy gun and doesn’t care who knows it. Thing is, he’s gotten pretty darn famous in the process. This leads him to get a bit overconfident when he meets Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), who he just assumes will fall head over heals for him. Well, it takes a bit of work but Billie comes around.

Meanwhile J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) is not amused. He makes sure that Dillinger is public enemy number one and he sends his top agent after him. Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) made a name for himself taking down Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum), so he knows how to catch gun happy criminals. But Dillinger is crafty and Purvis’ resources aren’t up to the challenge. The world is changing fast, and Dillinger may find that being one of the Public Enemies is nothing but a ticket to a bloody death.

Good Points:
  • Amazing production design and costumes, to pull you back in time
  • Some taut and thrilling action scenes
  • The acting by the whole cast is a perfect fit

Bad Points:
  • The script never nails down whose story it is trying to tell
  • There is a grim oppressive mood to the whole film
  • The script takes some major liberties with history

From a visual stand point this movie is worth checking out. Mann creates some memorable moments and the period detail is impressive. The acting is a nice showcase too. But the script is the real problem. You never get pulled into either Dillinger or Purvis, and the result is a cold film. Combined with the oppressive atmosphere the movie just never really grabs you. Perhaps my expectations were a bit too high, but I think this ended up being a missed opportunity.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


  1. As I've commented before, I give Depp kudos for taking on such a variety of roles, and doing a creditable job in them. That's not to say I like all his movies; sometimes he is not enough to save them. Gangsters in particular are hard to turn into figures with whom one can empathize; it takes a deft screenwriter to pull it off.

    I haven't seen this one, but, when in the mood for a period gangster movie, maybe I'll opt for "The Public Enemy" (1931) rather than "Public Enemies."

    1. Well if you're going to go classic than that is the way to go. :) Actually I think I like "White Heat" and "The Roaring Twenties" a bit more than "The Public Enemy". Cagney is always fun though.

  2. I haven't seen Public Enemies, perhaps due to not being a big enough Depp fan (I will say though he does looks like Dillinger however). I do enjoy some of Mann's other films like Manhunter. For a period piece gangster film, I enjoyed The Untouchables, and The Godfather films, among others. I might give it a rental in the future.

    1. Yeah, "Manhunter" is a good one. Been a while since I've revisited that. Might be time.

      "Public Enemies" is worth checking out, but it "The Godfather" is still one of the best gangster films - period. I enjoyed "The Untouchables" more than "Public Enemies" as well. De Palma's direction kept things moving better and it was just more entertaining as a whole.

  3. I wondered how you felt about the Coen film, Miller's Crossing? I generally love their films, particularly their more recent efforts from about Fargo onward, and some of the early stuff as well, but Miller's Crossing never really hit the mark for me. I have a friend that enjoys it, however. Speaking of Fargo - the TV series, I enjoyed it a lot as well. I'm currently watching the series True Detective, and it's pretty good too.

  4. Well "Miller's Crossing" I've only seen one time, and I don't remember too much about it. In fact I always forget about it when I'm thinking of Coen brother's films. I remember thinking it was good when I saw it, but if I haven't felt the need to revisit it since then... I do remember it haves some really lovely lighting and camera work in it. But honestly that is about all I remember.

    I just ran into someone else who really enjoyed the "Fargo" television series. I'm going to have to check it out.