Public Enemies is a film about the notorious John Dillinger, who was known for robbing banks during the depression era, when public distrust of financial institutions peaked.
It is also a movie about the expansion of the FBI and depicts some of the first scientific methods utilized in crime fighting.
Based on the book, Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, by Bryan Burrough, the movie takes on a romanticized portrayal of Dillinger’s infamous legacy.
Although the life story of Dillinger could have been a documentary, it made for a much more enjoyable action film.
Played by Johnny Depp, Dillinger was perhaps more lovable in this film than in real life, certainly a compliment to Depp’s memorizing performance.
While there were some interesting moments with the likes of Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Homer Van Meter, the lights of Hollywood focused solidly on Depp and he delivered beautifully, as Depp always does.
In watching the film, one feels the sense of a role reversal, which is an interesting derail from the Mission Impossible movies of yesterday. In Public Enemies, it seems like the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good.
One leaves the movie theater feeling as though the FBI were corrupt, not to mention downright obsessed with the capture of Dillinger. Likewise, there’s an interesting sense of Robin Hood in this movie, as the audience really wants to see Dillinger survive and escape the FBI‘s pursuit.
Aside from Dillinger‘s bank robbing and prison escapes, it is his relationship with Billie (Cotillard) that really tugs at the heart strings. They make a great couple in this film and she is absolutely stunning from her first scene to the last.
Whether it is Billie’s humble notations about wearing a three dollar dress in a high end restaurant or Dillinger’s attempt to offer her a better life, it’s hard not to fall in love with him as he pursues her.
Billie’s reference to her Native American heritage early on in the film is sad, (you’ll have to see it to know exactly what I mean) but Dillinger seems to dispel any negative connotations with his intense infatuation and love of her. A welcome hug amid a terrible insult, which makes one love Dillinger all the more.
Although their affair is a major theme in this film, there is plenty of action–edge of your seat engaging action that takes place.
Everything about this movie begins with a bang and keeps going with equal momentum.
As the movie starts, Dillinger is busting out of the Indiana State Penitentiary.
The audience then follows him through the bank robberies, murders, the corresponding media frenzies–all the way to the moment of Dillinger’s death on a sidewalk outside the Chicago Biograph Movie Theatre, where his famous last words are heard: “Bye, bye blackbird,”–a tribute to Billie, who is still in jail.
As Dillinger’s death draws near, it’s interesting to watch him sitting in the movie theater, while he is named one of the FBI’s most wanted.
It seems to highlight that familiar notion that we sometimes fail to see the most obvious things.
It’s a point that is made more than once throughout this film, by one of the more interesting directors that we have seen in the last century, Michael Mann, who certainly has a penchant for detailing difficult truths and disturbing stereotypes.
Known also for his use of art deco buildings and use of the color blue, he is said to have a preference for pop and rock music–although in this particular film, there is more of a down home bluesy feel to the musical selections and they seem to suit the movie well.
Filmed in high definition video, it was actually shot in the locations that were once home to Dillinger himself. That is not the only “real” aspect of this movie, either.
As noted in an earlier article, Mann utilized individuals who actually work in the media to play the reporters in this film.
They were engaging and believable, contributing a sense of that nostalgic media glamour, surrounding the legacy of the infamous Dillinger.
It’s been said that “Public Enemies is an obvious metaphor for current events, what with the Feds’ use of wiretapping, torture, and getting Public Enemy No. 1 by any means necessary.
The film’s release during the current economic climate only adds to its relevancy.” That would, it seems, appear to be the point.
Release Date: July 1
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann and Ann Biderman (screenplay)
(book) Bryan Burrough
Cinematographer: Dante Spinotti
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Stephen Dorff, Channing Tatum, Billy Crudup, Leelee Sobieski, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Graham
Run Time: Two hours and 20 minutes
Movie soundtrack includes: “Ten Million Slaves,” by Otis Taylor: “Love me or leave me” and “Am I Blue?” by Billie Holiday, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” by Diana Krall, “Phone Call to Billie,” by Elliot Goldenthal, “The Man I Love,” Billie Holiday, “JD Dies,” by Elliot Goldenthal, and “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was the Ground,” by Blind Willie Johnson and more.
Overall Rating: 10 out 10 stars. Depp and Cotillard are fantastic in this film.