Movie review: Public Enemies

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

There may be no better actor to portray John Dillinger than Johnny Depp. As the star of Michael Mann's Public Enemies, he's definitely got the right aura to evoke Dillinger and Depression-era America's romance with its common-man criminals. Depp's a confirmed Hollywood rebel, and he just oozes cool.

Like a lot of Mann's films (Heat, Miami Vice), his latest shares the latter trait. It's slickly, artfully crafted, using digital video to bring a modern edge and clarity to imagery steeped in period detail.

Covering the 13 months between Dillinger's 1933 prison break and his bloody death in front of Chicago's Biograph Theater, Mann moves back and forth between Dillinger and G-man gangster hunter Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale).

While Purvis is pressured by young FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (nicely overplayed by Billy Crudup) to capture Dillinger with limited resources, Dillinger confidently evades their attempts. Until the end, of course.

Mann's visions of gunpowder starbursts, cat-and-mouse chases and slim-figured gunmen spreading across bank lobbies can be as dazzling and charismatic as his leading man.

But while he creates delicious moments of tension, another emotion seems lost to a cool emotional distance: desperation. Even at their most confident, the classic gangsters of Bogart and Cagney carried a hint of being one job away from the soup lines. These days, that feeling would resonate for a lot of people.

Thanks to Marion Cotillard, it isn't missing entirely. Playing Dillinger's lover Billie Frechette, the actress reveals in just a few scenes all the resigned deprivation of the era, the sentiment that would propel a guy like Dillinger to the status of folk hero.

"Public Enemies"

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Grade: B