Public Enemies

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Public Enemies
Two of the finest actors of their time. The hunter and the hunted. A Michael Mann crime classic. But enough about ‘Heat’, what of Mann’s latest offering? This chronicle of 1930s bank robber John Dillinger and the efforts of J Edgar Hoover’s federal agents to take him out is headlined by a steelier-than-usual Johnny Depp, who convinces as the wily and ruthless thief. Mann’s film is an ambitious fresco of Depression-era America, where a string of armed robberies is grabbing the headlines and prompting a highly publicised crime-fighting operation directed more towards elimination than justice – significantly, new federal powers designed to assist the investigation also threaten the mob’s lucrative cross-country gambling activities.

It’s a fascinating moment in history, and Mann captures the cars, the guns and the buildings with painstaking, immersive authenticity. Then he has cameraman Dante Spinotti shoot it in widescreen digital video (with white-out windows it looks deliberately ‘digital’ too), so creating a ’30s crime flick with an in-the-moment immediacy quite unlike other period reconstructions. We’re right there on the running board as the getaway cars screech down the streets…

Impressive though it is, the film would be more thrilling if we had any genuine emotional connection to the characters. We end up knowing more about the social and political context for the crime spree than we do about the motivations of the key players: Depp’s Dillinger is driven by some generalised desire to escape, his moll Marion Cotillard merely sketched in, Christian Bale’s square-jawed lawman Melvin Purvis implacable in carrying out his duties. Elliot Goldenthal’s orchestral score strikes up to suggest some tragedy unfolding, but we’re just not swept up in it – and the Bush-era resonance in the human-rights questions posed by the feds’ brutal tactics isn’t sufficient compensation.

As in Mann’s ‘Miami Vice’, there’s a worrying feeling that the movie’s just skating over our feelings without really gathering much traction. It’s an event movie, of course, yet as Mann continues to lock himself into handheld DV mode, it does seem as if much of the poise and nuance has gone out of his filmmaking.

By: Trevor Johnston


Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Wednesday July 1 2009
Duration: 140 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Michael Mann
Screenwriter: Michael Mann, Ann Biderman, Ronan Bennett
Cast: Branka Katic
Lili Taylor
Stephen Graham
Marion Cotillard
Christian Bale
Shawn Hatosy
Channing Tatum
Giovanni Ribisi
Johnny Depp
Stephen Dorff
Emilie de Ravin
Billy Crudup

Average User Rating

3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:4
  • 1 star:0
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Lyn Miller

As someone who grew up in Indiana not far from Dillinger's home, he was someone I have always heard and read about. As a journalist, I did stories with the man who put together the collection of Dillinger items that Depp and Mann studied while making the movie. I loved the movie and I think it was far more truthful than many critics have indicated. Dillinger was a poor Hoosier who learned social skills from the movies. I think Depp's portrayal was much like many desparate mid-western young men of the time. Life was brutal and it created brutal individuals. Life was moment to moment, without plan or thought beyond the next few hours. I think with Billie, Dillinger wondered for a moment if something else was possible. As he sat in the movie on the night he died, I suspect he realized it was not.


‘Violence is as American as blueberry pie’, and this film is yet another illustration of that saying. Factually, the film is nearly 100% accurate. Emotionally, it completely misrepresents Dillinger in the interests of pandering to that combination of sentimentality and admiration of brute force that makes up the dark underside of the American psyche. Dillinger, a bully as a child and a sociopath as an adult, is portrayed as – well, really quite a nice guy. The director represents this serial whoremaster as touchingly devoted partner to his rather sweet girlfriend ‘Billie’. The fact that, as the film correctly states, Dillinger was finally gunned down after an evening out with a couple of prostitutes, might seem to some of us to be at odds with that image. But director Mann, for whom ‘irony’ is evidently what you do to remove creases from a shirt, takes this all in his stride, leaving us with the only factual inaccuracy of the film: Dillinger’s ‘last words’ (never actually uttered) for Billie, delivered by one of the G-men in a cloyingly sickly final scene. In a further unconscious irony, the man who orchestrated the manhunt for Dillinger, Melvin Purvis, is portrayed here as the real psychopath. He is humourlessly stated to have died by his own hand in 1960, and we are presumably meant to believe that his inner demons finally destroyed him, and that Dillinger’s romantically free spirited attitude to life is best after all. The facts that Purvis was treated abominably by the jealous Hoover after his success with Dillinger, and that his shooting was probably an accident with a faulty firearm, are ignored in the interests of this shoddy piece of posthumous public relations. The take home lesson? Watch the film, and understand how it is that the US can continue to admire and support the gang of sociopaths currently running the state of Israel.

Rob C

I was looking forward to the movie and went to see it before reading this review. I have to say that the review is spot on although perhaps a touch too positive. The film is very dull and it is impossible to become emotionally attached to any character. It is overly long, and could easily have been cut by half an hour by just reducing the number of scenes with guys just pointlessly shooting at one another without any success at all for hours on end. As with most Mann films, it looked great but was so far up its own backside, the characters and story got completely lost.


I thought this film was pretty good; Johnny Depp oozes charm, Marion Cotillard looks stunning and the sets seemed authentic. As for the charge that the characters lacked depth, I think we saw enough to know that Dillinger lived for the present and made the most of it, whereas Agent Purvis probably lived with his mother and drank nothing stronger than milk. The film is a tad overlong; otherwise, well worth seeing. My wife enjoyed it, too.

Val Demise

I won't deny that I was a little disappointed with the movie. the script was made up with alot of small talk, and the relationship between John Dillinger and whatever the girl was called was very unbelievable, by which I mean it's not likely the girl would fall for a man who immediatly says he's a very famous and possobly dangerous theif.


This bears many similarities with Mann`s classic `Heat` but isn`t in the same league as that benchmark. . There is precious little depth to any of the characters, with Purvis and Baby Face Nelson, in particular, criminally under-developed. The action sequences are outstanding, as impressive as anything you will ever see in a cinema, but this could have been so much more with an improved script and richer characterisation.


I have been a fan of Michael Mann since I saw his first film, "Thief", way back in 1981. I have to admit his later efforts such as "Collateral" and "Miami Vice" have left me wanting a return to the days of "Heat" when he reached the height of his powers. So is "Public Enemies" a return to these heights? I would have to say Not Quite. This is not to say that PE is not a good film, it is. It is just lacking the sense of grandeur and style of his earlier works. The portrayal of Dillinger by Depp is very good. The sense of his recklessness and pure "adrenaline junky" attitude comes across well. He revels in his reputation, living a life of anti-stardom almost akin to the screen gangsters of the films of the era he so obviously enjoys. Bale on the other hand is so bland as to almost disappear. This lad needs to seriously lighten up a little, as his screen performances are becoming so dull as to be lifeless. The films action set pieces are very well done but then one does expect this of a director with Manns reputation. His legendary attention to detail all to evident from the clothes worn to the weapons used. This has become a Mann trademark. However the story takes some major liberties with history. "Pretty Boy Floyd" did die at the hands of a unit lead by Purvis but this was several months after Dillinger. Homer van Meter (Dorff) died in an alleyway in St Paul Minnesota after a brief gunfight with Police, also after Dillinger. Lester "Baby face nelson" Gillis also died some months after Dillinger in a shootout with FBI agents. To show them dieing in the FBI shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge was really playing fast and loose with the facts. In fact the only people apprehended there by Purvis and his men were the gangs girlfriends. It was a monumental failure for Purvis whis resulted in the deaths of three innocent men in the car that was leaving and was fired upon. A moment shown in the film but never made quite clear as to what had happened. So how should PE be judged? As a totally accurate biopic of Dillinger it fails on some counts but scores well on others such as the portrayal of the escape from the Crown Point jail in Indiana using a wooden "gun" and the media circus surrounding him at the time. But his foray into the Dillinger Unit office at the Police Hq is pure fiction and I thought a scene that could easily have been left out of the film. Did I enjoy it? ( because it reads like I didn't doesn't it). Yes I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was filmed on digital and this has been much maligned by critics and although I thought it gave the film a "you are there" look to it I would prefer the classic look that his look that his cinematographer Dante Spinotti showed in such mann films as "Manhunter" and "The Last of the Mohicans". As said the action pieces are excellent, the pacing is good and the characters come across well. It does show the naive ineptitude of the fledgling FBI very accurately (Yes they really were that bad!). So all in all a bit of a mixture with the result coming out as being very good. If you know anything about Dillinger you may be left a little disappointed. If you go to it wanting a rattling good crime epic showing how insane the the early '30s crime wave was, then you'll enjoy it. So take the Mrs and she can lust after Depp while you enjoy the firefights.


I don't agree with the reviewers comment about "skating over our feelings" and not caring for the characters, I think Marion Cotillard gives a great performance....and how fantastic is it to see a 'Donnie Brasco' style Johnny Depp again, he hasnt performed like this for so long. the look of it did take me about 5 minutes to get used to but once you're in there its unlike anything you've seen, I think embracing digital will create a new cinematic experience.


Awesome. Amazing. Fantastic. The acting by Depp abd Cotillard is top notch. At last Mann has injected some genuine emotion to counterpoint the action. Can't wait to see this again.


Saw the film earlier today. Some terrific performances and one that is not mentioned in the review is our own Stephen Graham playing Baby Face Nelson. Steals the film by far. When you look at this alongside recent menacing performances like Combo in This is England and Franner in Liverpool gangster film The Crew he has to be acknowledged as one of the UKs leading actors

usman khawaja

Ultimately American cinema has coughed up an instant classic ending the drought for quality and quintessential stylised artistry which was a landmark for Hollywood in the 40s -60s,and it is rather surreal this exquisite endeavour is set in the post-depression america translating the story of the master criminal Dillinger ,his half breed lover BILLIE and the FBI agent on their trail across the sweeping midwest vistas which are turned into mellifluous montages of spectacular and harmoniously measured gunfights which are composed with a remarkable calm and assured style by the masterful execution of mr.Mann. This is as much about the spectacle of gratuitous violence as it is about the execution of crime and punishment with each sequence seeped in almost esoteric beauty immersed in realistic technique which transports you into the hearts and minds of each character . marion Coutillard must be the greatest actress in cinema today as she sets a standard of acting which will be difficult to match ,yet both Depp as dillinger and Bale as the rather stolid introverted purvis are hypnotic to watch . This is a fecund facade of imagination and talent that you can view as many times as you wish with equal joy and emotional satiety which is a tribute to the thirties hollywood where Gable ,Powell and Myrna loy are paid homage by a great director yet in doing so with the spectacular Selznick monochrome images he redeems modern American cinema and brings time into a full circle as every grand slam in the universe enters a cycle to repeat their rendezvous with greatness . A modern masterpiece with motion that weaves magical spells with eloquent frames that cannot be praised enough for either their expressive potential or their potent emotion .


I went to see this film today with great expectations would it be another Titanic or Pearl Harbour style film with loads of depth and would it pull me in?? Sadly No, it wasn't a bad film but it didn't involve the viewer and overall it felt like it dragged and it doesn't have very much action at all, The characters are well thought out and depp is excellent but the storyline should have been more interesting. I rate this film 2 out of 5. I feel the ending isn't very good a Romanian girl who was close to johnny would rather have a slight chance of not being deported than letting johnny die.

movie newbie

what the review says is very true. it's almost a 30s movie. Not much actions except for some blood, no SFX, very simple plot and story line of a police/thief story.