(director/writer: Michael Mann; screenwriters: Ronan Bennett/Ann Biderman/based on the book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough; cinematographer: Dante Spinotti; editors: Paul Rubell/Jeffrey Ford; music: Elliot Goldenthal; cast: Johnny Depp (John Dillinger), Christian Bale (Melvin Purvis), Marion Cotillard (Billie Frechette), Billy Crudup (J. Edgar Hoover), Stephen Dorff (Homer Van Meter), Jason Clarke (Red Hamilton), Stephen Lang (Charles Winstead), Channing Tatum (Pretty Boy Floyd), Branka Katic (Anna Sage), Bill Camp (Frank Nitti), Stephen Graham (Baby Face Nelson), Giovanni Ribisi (Alvin Karpis), Christian Stolte (Charles Makley), Peter Gerety (Lawyer), James Russo (Walter Dietrich); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Michael Mann/Kevin Misher; Universal Pictures; 2009)
“Has the innovative looks and cool appeal to take you under its charged cinematic spell and win you over.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Michael Mann (“Ali”/”Miami Vice”/”Heat”) stylishly in digital chronicles Depression-era public image conscious notorious bank robber and Public Enemy Number One John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and the bid of the equally public image conscious young director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), who aims to nab the celebrity gangster so that his up-and-coming bureau would gain some respect in Congress and become better funded to be able to check crimes that go beyond state borders. Hoover’s agents on the field are led by the dedicated straight-arrow, square-jawed, officious Chicago bureau chief Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), who got that rank position after he shot Pretty Boy Floyd.
It’s well-crafted, finely acted and an arty looking gangster pic with machine guns blazing away throughout, but it never reaches the heart and is an empty experience. The crime thriller climaxes when the FBI on a hot July night in 1934 guns down Dillinger in the street coming out of the Biograph Theatre after seeing Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama; the bureau thereby gets new power to operate and with more money. The viewer gets a less than accurate history lesson, but sees a competently made forgettable film.
It’s based on the 2004 non-fiction book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough and is written by Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman.
During the early 1930s the Indiana born John Dillinger is one of a handful of colorful gangsters (others include Bonnie and Clyde and Machine Gun Kelly) who became famous as American folk anti-heroes for their crimes against hated institutions such as banks that failed the public at the time and caused their financial woes. The film opens as a ruthless Dillinger, after serving time in an Indiana state prison, orchestrates a daring bloody prison escape to free his gang members. Viewed by the public as a Robin Hood figure, Dillinger and gang then go on a spree robbing banks in the Midwest, has a passionate love affair with a Chicago club hatcheck girl Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), lives high and in the moment, and mingles with other criminals–such as Baby Face Nelson and members of the Chicago mob led by Frank Nitti. When apprehended again, Dillinger breaks out of a city jail in Indiana. When the organized mob no longer found it in their best interest to associate with Dillinger, who drew unwanted attention to their illegal gambling operation across state lines, they cut him loose. On-the-run as a loner, Purvis sets a trap for Dillinger by forcing a Romanian refugee whore, Anna Sage (Branka Katic), to cooperate in telling where the gangster is or face deportation. It evidently greatly upset Purvis that he did not follow his ethical principles to apprehend the criminal in a just way, as he felt pressured to get Dillinger any way he could after a botched nocturnal FBI raid to capture the gangster in his hideout at Wisconsin’s Little Bohemia Lodge. At the end credits we learn that agent Purvis a year later took his own life.
It’s a typical Michael Mann adrenalin shot film featuring numerous well-choreographed shootouts and bank robberies. For those viewers accepting of a crime thriller that engages the senses more than the intellect and one that fills the screen with desperate romanticized outlaws living out for real Gable’s romanticized gangster role in Manhattan Melodrama, this one has the innovative looks and cool appeal to take you under its charged cinematic spell and win you over.
REVIEWED ON 7/5/2009 GRADE: B