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Public Enemies (2009)

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Score: 6/10

Genre: Gangster Running Time: 2 hr. 23 min.

Release Date: July 1st, 2009 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Michael Mann Actors: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Channing Tatum, David Wenham


ike a selfish 1930s Robin Hood, John Dillinger was a charismatic and brash bank robber who swayed the public to his side, even though his occupation was less than legal. Michael Mann’s re-envisioning of the iconic gangster’s adventures includes copious shootouts, car chases, and solid performances. While the typical protagonists and antagonists switch roles, it’s still a shame to be forced to root for the historically doomed.

The year is 1933, a time considered by many an outlaw to be the “Golden Age” of bank robbery. For John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), it was a time of infinite possibilities, where no bank could thwart him, no prison could hold him, and the beautiful Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) couldn’t resist him. To combat the sharp incline in rampant criminal activity, J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) forms the FBI, led by the courageous Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), and targets Dillinger as public enemy number one. Relying on unorthodox methods of intelligence gathering (such as tracking the purchase location of a coat or recording phone conversations), the manpower of trained gunmen, and his own relentless nature, Purvis steadily closes in on the dauntless felon and his partners in crime.

It feels like “The Untouchables” spiked with extra gritty violence, an admirable attention to visual details, and machinegun fire that pierces the eardrums with an authentic cannonade. It’s a vivid, noirish, bloodthirsty 1930s. Unfortunately, “Public Enemies” is also largely forgettable. It’s suspenseful, intense, action-packed, and well-paced for its excessive running time, but by the conclusion, which of course follows history (with the occasional creative liberty), audiences are left with a simple biopic chronicling a man they’re not supposed to side with. It contains a modernized education on notorious gangsters, but it can’t outshine the prior flock of superior, similarly-structured films. Regardless of how charismatic Dillinger was in real life, Depp makes him a wholeheartedly likeable rogue, while Bale’s Melvin Purvis comes across as the villain. It’s not an uncommon switch to relate to the bad guy, but the adversity is in the inevitable ending.

With deafening, exciting bank robberies that try to top 1995’s “Heat,” Tommy gun campaigns, broads and molls, suicide doors, hardened criminal courtship, plenty of attitude, and a general take-off-the-white-gloves bluster, “Public Enemies” definitely knows how to portray vivacity and action. While it doesn’t do much to separate itself from the existing band of no-holds-barred gangster flicks, director Michael Mann skillfully makes this film as tense as an impossibly lengthy red light during a life-or-death stolen car getaway. He also knows that glamorizing gangsterism at the box office is a typically winning formula.

– The Massie Twins


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