Run Time: 2 hrs 20 mins
Plot Synopsis: This is based on the true story of legendary Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger (Depp), the charismatic bank robber whose lightning raids made him the number one target of J. Edgar Hoover’s fledgling FBI and its top agent, Melvin Purvis (Bale), and a folk hero to much of the downtrodden public. No one could stop Dillinger. No jail could hold him. His charm and audacious jailbreaks endeared him to almost everyone, from his girlfriend Billie Frechette (Cotillard), to an American public who had no sympathy for the banks that had plunged the country into the Depression. But while the adventures of Dillinger’s gang (later including the sociopathic Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham)) thrilled many, Hoover (Billy Crudup) hit on the idea of exploiting the outlaw’s capture as a way to elevate his Bureau of Investigation into the national police force that became the FBI. He made Dillinger America’s first Public Enemy Number One.
Rarely are movie-goers treated to a film that boasts a strong story and a strong cast from top to bottom. Even rarer still that they get to see two of the finest actors in recent memory doing their job at the top of their game. I don’t think there is any doubt that Johnny Depp has established himself as one of Hollywood’s elite actors, and one of the finest of his generation. Christian Bale is, in my humble opinion, is right up there with Depp. In fact, until this years debacle Terminator Salvation, I’d never seen Bale turn in a poor performance and rarely did I ever see a poor Bale movie. He has a solid track record just like Depp. So when I first heard that Bale, one of my favorite actors, would be staring in a movie with Johnny Depp, another favorite of mine and one of the best in the biz, I was thrilled. I had the release date marked on my calendar in big bold print. Public Enemies would be, without a doubt, one of the greatest movies of the year. That day finally came, and last night I had the pleasure of sitting down in a nice and quiet empty theater for a special screening of my most anticipated movie of the year not featuring a big blue man. What I got was exactly what I expected – a ton of fun, some subtle humor, charm, drama, action, and some of the finest acting I’ve had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen this year. Public Enemies is easily the best major motion picture release of the year.
The logical place to start is with the story. Since Public Enemies is based on a true story, there is a possibility that a portion of it’s target audience knows about the story. There were some historical inaccuracies, some chronological issues, but it is just a movie and not a biography. Certain liberties had to be taken to turn the true story into a feasible and coherent film, and I really feel like they did a great job of doing so. Even knowing that there are some liberties taken, I’m sure there are people out there that will hesitate because they think they know enough about the true story to ruin the movie going experience. With ticket prices soaring, why go see a film about something you already know a lot about? I mean, you have a rough understanding of how things will play out on the screen, right? Fans of the gangster era in the U.S. and history buffs will know a lot about the story, but the great thing about this movie is that even though I went in knowing a lot about Dillinger and the gangster era, the story was unfolded in such a way that I never thought about what I knew. I didn’t have time to stop and think about anything. From start to finish, the film had my complete attention, and I’m sure it will grab and hook everyone else the same way. There really weren’t many, if any at all, points where I lost interest or stopped caring about the story. The music really helped to set the mood and to help advance the story. I loved the use of the narrator on the radio, and it really helped give the film that old nostalgic feeling. The ending may leave some audience members a little disappointed, but I thought it was fantastic, especially the last line.
The cinematography was great. A lot of fuss was made about the way director Michael Mann shot this film. It seemed to switch between the digital look and an old sepia toned look. Personally, I thought it looked great. Parts of the film left me feeling like I was right there on the street watching the whole thing in person, while other parts of the film appeared just as if I was watching a movie, which I was so it wasn’t bad. I know a lot of people will be confused by this, but I honestly believe that Mann wanted to bring audiences in close during certain parts of the movie and feel a little more connected. It was a very interesting way to tell the story, and I give Michael Mann credit for his efforts. Of course, no one should be surprised that Mann did a fine job on this film, with a track record like his – having done films like Heat, The Insider and Collateral. Public Enemies is another finely done film to add to his impressive list of projects. The master of the shootout, having produced perhaps the most famous shootout and definitely the coolest shootout in Heat, it should also come as no surprise that the shootouts and bank robbery sequences in this film were some of the coolest scenes on film this year.
The biggest positive about this film was most definitely the unbelievable strong performances by Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, and Marion Cotillard. Cotillard looked great and was a great compliment to Depp and her chemistry with Depp is great. The love story between the two seems a bit played up, but still enjoyable and really serve to help show the more human side of Dillinger. And speaking of Dillinger, Depp was simply amazing. It was refreshing to see him play a slightly less eccentric character. His performance proved once again that he is one of the best. There really was no one else who could’ve pulled this role off. Depp IS Dillinger. I’ve read people say that Depp’s performance was empty, but really it was more subtle. The cool, confident and almost cocky nature of the character is really portrayed on screen. It’s a look of how a man lived and succeeded in a hard time. Dillinger was a man that lived in the moment as only a man in the depression could. From the worlds on John Dillinger, “I’m too busy having fun today to even think about tomorrow.”
Then there was Bale. Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis was the perfect compliment to Depp’s Dillenger. He once again proved he is one of the best. He plays Purvis as professional, intimidating, and broken. If you’ve seen his work before, you’d know that his accent is spot on. He’s also very subtle in his expressions. Watching him as a man hunting a “criminal” because it’s his job, his obsession, but he’s still torn between his feelings toward his job and his true feelings toward Dillinger. Yes, he was the typical white knight archetype, but his character was more deep than that. His chemistry with Depp helped drive the movie forward, and his scenes with Depp were powerful and some even explosive. I really enjoyed this character and how Bale portrayed him.
I can’t end the discussion of the characters of this film without mentioning one of the coolest secondary characters ever, Channing Tatum’s gangster character “Pretty Boy” Floyd. He was an insane, almost over the top type character. A pure psychotic, you just hate him so much yet you really enjoy seeing him. I’ve never really been a fan of Tatum, and I’ve certainly never said that he turned in a great performance, but there is a first time for everything. Channing Tatum was great as “Pretty Boy.” I have a feeling that will be a fan favorite character.
Even though there are some historical inaccuracies, Public Enemies was a great cat and mouse, back and forth action/drama/thriller that will keep you glued to your seat and your eyes on the screen from start to finish. Beautiful cinematography and brilliant bank robbery/shootout sequences, along with amazing performances by Christian Bale and Johnny Depp help make this film one of the finest of this year. It is a must see on the big screen, and it’s a must buy whenever it comes out on DVD. Do yourself a favor and go enjoy Public Enemies. This is one movie that does NOT disappoint!