Public Enemies (2009) – Review

Set in 1933, notorious bank robber, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his fellow gang members are hunted by the FBI after Dillinger’s popularity begins to soar and their dangerous attacks become more frequent. Head of the FBI, Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), is determined to stop the gang and tasks Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to hunt and consequently eradicate the mob. A really interesting tale of cat and mouse played out as a feature film – certainly a good watch, despite the relatively long runtime.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett, Ann Biderman
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Jason Clarke, Stephen Graham, Marion Cotillard

Straight away, it has to be said that for much of this movie, it was difficult not to sympathise with John Dillinger as a character. Rather interestingly and somewhat controversially, Dillinger and his mob were painted almost as the victims throughout while the FBI were more or less represented as the struggling and desperate group of men trying their best to squash the mob by any means necessary. At times, the FBI’s underhand tactics were shown which made you question the morality of their decisions, while the filmmakers also made a point (on more than one occasion) to mention the fact that Dillinger and his crew only targeted the rich and wealthy (primarily banks) while leaving the ordinary everyday citizens alone.

As previously mentioned, the runtime seemed relatively long in my eyes however, and this was something I felt could have been shortened considerably. The film officially ran for a total of one hundred and forty minutes, far too long when you take into consideration the simplicity of the plot and repetitive scenes that acted at times as “filler material”. There’s also a solid argument to suggest that one or two of the action sequences and bank heists ran for too long too.

With that being said, something and probably the most captivating thing about this film that stood out to me was the set and costume design – both were sensational and really evoked the 1930’s vibe that the filmmakers were hoping to convey. This facet of the movie alone made it an extremely enjoyable viewing experience, with much of the cinematography pleasing to watch.

In terms of the casting and acting performances, Johnny Depp was outstanding in his role as John Dillinger. In a movie that had such a diverse and varied cast, his character certainly stood out from the rest. He adopted a less strange, quirky and bizarre character that we’re ever so used to seeing him portrayed as and made Dillinger the dangerous and callous yet likeable criminal he needed to be. You’d even go as far saying the Dillinger character alone could warrant a sequel surrounding his rise to the notorious criminal status he held.

Elsewhere, Christian Bale starred as Melvin Purvis and in all honesty, it seemed to me like he was comfortable and content to remain in second gear throughout the flick – he seemed almost identical in each of the scenes he was involved in and didn’t really have to step up at any point, which was a shame. Jason Clarke also appeared as Red Hamilton while Stephen Graham appeared as Baby Face Nelson – both of whom did well in their respective roles. Somebody else that stood out however, was Marion Cotillard who was the love interest of Dillinger. Her role of Billie Frechette was extremely effective and believable.

Ultimately, a half decent movie that was thoroughly enjoyable in many parts but didn’t quite reach the level it perhaps should have considering the plot and impressive array of casting.

“My friends call me John but a son of a bitch screw like you better refer to me as Mr. John Dillinger.”

John Dillinger – Public Enemies

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