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Public Enemies movie poster

Public Enemies: Movie Review

Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by:
Michael Mann
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Stephen Dorff, Billy Crudup, Channing Tatum, Rory Cochrane, Giovanni Ribisi

Released by: Universal Pictures

In Short: John Dillinger, the "Gentleman Bandit" and legendary 1930s bank robber gets yet another biopic big screen treatment, with mixed results.
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Dillinger Disconnect
Public Enemies Looks Good, But Lacks Emotion

For many film fans, the idea of Public Enemies elicits a frisson of excitement. With Johnny Depp tackling the role of famed 1930s bank robber John Dillinger, Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the G-Man who chased him down, Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's moll, and Heat director Michael Mann at the helm, it held out the promise of being the movie of the year. It also could've perhaps even took the lead position as the 21st century’s top entry into the pantheon of fantastic gangster biographies from days gone by: think Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Public Enemy, the James Cagney great from 1931 that has no relation to Public Enemies.

And while Public Enemies is a good movie, it’s not a great one, and that’s where the disappointment comes in. Mann's film looks wonderful, evoking the period with clothes, cars, and, of course, Tommy guns. Beginning Dillinger’s story when the "Gentleman Bandit" is released from a ten-year prison stint, Mann follows his legendary crime spree right up to that fateful day at the Biograph Theater in Chicago when Purvis gets his man.

Christian Bale in Public Enemies A scene from Public Enemies

Perhaps it is the fact that we already know the oft-told Dillinger tale, or perhaps it is Mann’s slow, somewhat emotionless pacing of the story, but there is a disconnect inherent in the film. Despite wanting Johnny Depp to be perfect in the role, in fact he never quite finds the spark of personality that made Dillinger such an American folk hero, the Robin Hood of his era. Sure, he looks terrific in those sharp Thirties duds and fedoras, but we never feel as if he is real. Think Michael Corleone or Henry Hill; those in-depth characterizations have held in our memories, while Depp’s Dillinger flits away as soon as the credits roll.

Add in the total lack of chemistry between Depp and Cotillard, Bale’s wooden-faced take on Purvis, and the two-hour-plus running time, and the result is a film-going experience that sadly falls short of our too-high expectations.

Reviewed by Jenny Peters

(Updated: 07/01/09 KR)

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