It takes a special film to make the audience root for the enemy and director Michael Mann’s Public Enemies does just that as I found myself invested in every move that leading man Johnny Depp made in his rock solid portrayal of notorious 1930s bank robber John Dillinger. Although it did not quite measure up to Mann’s crown jewel, Los Angeles crime saga Heat, Public Enemies takes a step out from the ordinary “cops vs. bad guys” theme and allows the viewer inside the mind of the FBI’s most wanted man.
Michael Mann is a crime junkie, plain and simple – but what makes his films so memorable are the solid casting jobs and the on-screen interaction among high-profile actors. Heat not only brought together Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, but it also featured roles by Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, and Ashley Judd. Holding form with his previous work, Mann stocked Public Enemies with an ensemble including Depp, Christian Bale (not enough space to list the blockbusters this dude has been in), Billy Crudup (Almost Famous and Big Fish), Marion Cotillard (2007 Best Actress Oscar winner, La Mome) Channing Tatum (G.I. Joe), and Emilie de Ravin (Claire from “Lost”). Although the cast is strong throughout the picture, Depp steals the show with his style, audacity, and humor.
Simply put, John Dillinger had a pair of stones the size of bowling balls; no bank was out of his reach, no jail too secure to break out of, and no woman could resist his charm. Through Mann’s eye and Depp’s attention to detail, Public Enemies brilliantly portrayed Dillinger as the Robin Hood of his era. He was law enforcement’s worst nightmare, but a hero to the workingman who at the time was experiencing the hardships of financial depression in America. From the dramatic action sequences such as when Depp hops over a bank counter and draws his guns to his utter lack of concern when walking unnoticed through a police station, Public Enemies keeps the suspense on high at all times.
Although I enjoyed the film on the whole, there are a few issues I have when reviewing the total work. Public Enemies was promoted as a showdown between Depp and Bale’s (FBI Agent Melvin Purvis) characters, however Bale had far less face time than Depp and did not particularly light up the screen with his performance. Bale’s attempt at a thick Midwestern accent was laughable and about as believable as the Jamaican voice Dave Chappelle uses as Thurgood Jenkins in stoner classic Half Baked. Also, the movie is 2 hours and 23 minutes long and no film should be this length, really it’s ridiculous. The story could have easily been completed just as effectively in 2 hours, possible even 90 minutes.
All-in-all Public Enemies is worth the price of admission and I give it a solid 3 out of 4 stars on the Campus Socialite movie meter.