Thursday Night Movie Club
Public Enemies
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Release Date: 1 July 2009

Director: Michael Mann
Johnny Depp
Christian Bale
Marion Cotillard
James Russo
David Wenham
Christian Stolte
Jason Clarke
John Judd
Stephen Dorff
Michael Vieau
John Kishline
Wesley Walker
John Scherp
Elena Kenney
William Nero Jr.
Channing Tatum
Stephen Graham
John Dillinger
Melvin Purvis
Billie Frechette
Walter Dietrich
Harry 'Pete' Pierpont
Charles Makley
'Red' Hamilton
Homer Van Meter
Ed Shouse
Guard Dainard
Jim Leslie
Earl Adams
Viola Norris
Toddler on Farm
Pretty Boy Floyd
Baby Face Nelson
Public Enemies movie poster Public Enemies movie poster Public Enemies movie poster
Johnny Depp as John Dillinger in Public EnemiesDirector Michael Mann has crafted an exciting film telling the story of bank robber John Dillinger in Public Enemies. The problem is matching the other actors to their infamous real-life characters. Everyone knows John Dillinger and his battle with G-Man Melvin Purvis. Dillinger had a gang of robbers including Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson. The much better Dillinger had actor Ben Johnson as Melvin Purvis narrating the story and introducing the robbers.

During the Great Depression, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) made his name known from coast to coast by robbing a series of banks without getting shot or captured. Dillinger was arrested once but promptly broke out of an Indiana prison by carving a hand gun out of a bar of soap.

Johnny Depp as John Dillinger in Public EnemiesAlong the way, Dillinger slowly collected a long list of enemies. Law enforcement was stymied when Dillinger simply crossed the state line into Wisconsin or Indiana where he was untouchable. To combat Dillinger's crime spree, F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) forms a special unit headed by Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to hunt Dillinger and his gang. Purvis is granted special law enforcement rights. As a federal agent, Purvis can cross state lines to pursue Dillinger. Organized crime in Chicago become nervous as this new law enforcement agency now have the ability to go after the crime underworld.

Purvis plays the game every bit as dirty as Dillinger. Fortunately for Purvis, he has the law on his side. He applies pressure to anyone who knows or has in anyway aided or abetted Dillinger. In the end, Dillinger has no where to run. His only chance is to hide himself in the big city of Chicago and hope the heat eventually dies down. By the way Mr. Dillinger, how was the movie?

Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis in Public EnemiesBesides not being able to identify the characters, Johnny Depp is surprisingly bland in his portrayal of the charismatic Dillinger. Maybe Depp's heart just wasn't in the material. Maybe director Mann was more concerned with staging the scenes and creating action that he forgot about character development. Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis plays his role with the same cold, stone-faced approached. These two great actors play their respective parts with all the charisma of a two-by-four.

The action sequences, car chases, and gun fights are the most exciting elements to Public Enemies. The highlight sequence is the federal agent raid on the motel in Minnesota where Dillinger and his gang are holed up. One mistake by the agents leads to an extended battle with plenty of carnage. Machine guns aren't accurate after about 20 feet. Both sides point and shoot and hope they hit something. Dillinger is better equipped having hand grenades at the ready.

Johnny Depp and Elena Kenney in Public EnemiesDirector Mann is very good developing suspense and creating great action sequences. He and set decorator spend a lot of time getting everything exactly correct. The street surrounding the Biograph Theater, where Dillinger was gunned down, was completely recreated to match the actual store fronts in existence on that fateful day. Seemingly, Mann spent too much effort on staging and filming the sets than he did working with the actors. Mann left the actors to their own devices to "find" their characters.

Depp, Bale, Channing Tatum (Pretty Boy Floyd), Stephen Graham (Baby Face Nelson) and the rest of the cast seemingly prepared for their roles by watching every stereotypical gangster film rather than trying to understand who these actual people were. Here's the problem with Public Enemies, the actors are portraying characters. They are not recreating real, live, living human beings.

Public Enemies has some fantastic action sequences. Anyone looking to find a deeper insight into the lives of John Dillinger, his gang, or the men who hunted them down will be disappointed. A documentary on Dillinger would be much more entertaining than this film.