Public Enemies Film Review
The film was based on a 2004 non-fiction book by Bryan Burrough entitled Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34.
I’m a big fan of mafia book but sad to say I am not a huge of gangster movies. Actually, I find them slow and at certain times even boring. But what got my attention with this movie was the star of the film, Jonny Depp. Depp’s been known to take a usually common and almost unadventurous role and turn it into a spectacular character (e.g. Captain Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka); anyways, so I got interested in this movie and actually was interested enough to watch it.
Like almost all gangster movie it started with a gun fight between the members of the gang and of course the authorities, this time though the film started with John Dillinger breaking his buddies out of prison. What is really noteworthy about the gunfight was the fact that it wasn’t too theatrical; it was a straight forward jailbreak – they over powered the prison guards, one hot head killed one of the guards and a gun fight ensues wherein one of Dillinger’s gang, his mentor actually was killed and as punishment he left out to the vultures the one who caused the commotion in the first place. It was immediate and gangster type justice.
The film was set in the early 1930s where men still wore hats and trench coat was the fashion, sort of a Dick Tracy reminder there, and men can actually walk the streets with their guns and banks doesn’t seem to that any security (at all!) I remember commenting on how easy Dillinger and his men enter the banks they rob with his double handguns. I mean, they just make it so easy for them to get rob imagine a guy entering the bank and breezing through the door and straight to the bank manager with a loaded gun and that’s before he even fired a shot. I guess these events were the things that triggered bank security and such. During the robberies, the movie emphasizes on the fact that Dillinger makes the effort to put on a great show of stealing only the “bank’s money” rather than the small deposits of the general public. Sort of like a steal from the rich and not the working man kind of thing…hehehe! Honor on thievery…a twisted sort of values I guess but a value just the same.
Another noteworthy part of the film was Dillinger’s very gangster like courting of his love interest Billie Frechette (Marion Cottilard, practically demanding that she become his girlfriend and buts or ifs about it. Well, she complies of course what other answer could she give anyway. And he woes her with lavish gifts, of fur coats and expensive dinners, Dillinger promised her the world but the world is changing from the one that Dillinger knew. Crime and the criminals itself were beginning to change, and law enforcement have started to evolve. This was also the time of the birth of the FBI and the enactment of the first ever “National War Against Crime” act. At one point being recognized as Dillinger’s girl Billie was apprehended by the FBI was viciously interrogated and beaten to learn about his whereabouts but she refuses to talk, instead sneering that they missed their chance to capture him at the hotel, and that Dillinger’s anger will know no bounds when he hears about her treatment. Sadly, though this was the only part of the film where Cottilard was given any decent character development.
It is here in this part of the story that you see the huge difference between the American gangsters and the Sicilian Mafioso. Where the first was just a bunch of crude men with guns, interested only in money and wealth run by crude leaders with very little foresight, whereas the other gets wisdom, tactics and even influence from an entire bloodline of elders, advisers and even at times a council made up of other mafia lords. I personally attribute that fact to why the gangs never stay as long as the mafia.
Well, in the film, Dillinger failed to move and change with the times; he failed to recognize the effect that the new law enforcement arm of the government would have on him. Dillinger lives for the moment, unwilling or unable to consider the future, and with little use for the past.
Christian Bale plays Melvin Purvis, Dillinger’s main rival. Bale’s chilly screen persona is perfect for a self-righteous villain like this. Unfortunately, the two main rivals, Purvis and Dillinger, don’t really connect much onscreen, except for one brief, well-placed discussion through prison bars. I love Bale’s intensity and his acting had always been flawless, here he was the silent but resilient agent assigned to head the anti-Dillinger team. Bale made us see an effective operator, ruthless sometimes but always justified.
Allow me to comment now on the action on the film, unlike most action films with a lot of big action effects and extravagant explosions the actions on this film are well made and real. I said real because it was believable. The combination of stark lighting and shaky camera movements gave chaos an open invitation to rear its ugly head at any time. The bullets are loud and plentiful and when they hit, the blood is not shy about making an exit.
What makes this film really different is its loyalty to reality, director Michael Mann made sure that the film stuck as much as possible to what actually happened most especially on the details of Dillinger death. Mann spends a great deal of extra time mining Dillinger’s real-life ending for all its movie-ness. Dillinger was shot just after a showing of Manhattan Melodrama (1934), and so Mann showed clips from that film (with Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy), and deliberately ties in some of its ideas to his own film.
I liked the film, it’s not my favorite Johnny Depp film but it was really good.