As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I am a history buff. I like historical films, TV and plays. It has always fascinated me to see how people lived and communicated back in the day. That said, I have a soft spot for biographies and period pieces that play on the screen.
This brings me to my current topic: Public Enemies. It’s the story of John Dillinger’s heyday as a bank robber, condensed into an hour and a half. Dillinger (Johnny Depp) has just been released from prison and has decided to release some of his prison friends.
These friends, then, host bank heist after bank heist. Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the time, has decided to fight a war against public enemies. At the top of the enemy list is John Dillinger. Hoover appoints Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to head up a special task force to arrest Dillinger. Purvis is only chosen because he has just killed Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum), a known criminal.
Screenwriters Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann and Ann Biderman sure had their work cut out for them. The only interesting things about Dillinger are that he’s a lady’s man, he’s good at robbing banks, and he’s great at evading the police and getting away from them.
Now for some people, that’s enough to make anyone famous. For me, I wanted something more. Sure, John Dillinger is considered the Robin Hood of his time. But he robbed banks and lived the good life off of his earnings. He stole from the rich and kept it for himself. The only valiant things about him are that he’s very gentle when it comes to women, and he never stole money from a poor person.
Director Michael Mann, who is great in his own right, should be commended for trying his best to make this film interesting. Not that the film is bad. But it wasn’t spectacular either. I didn’t really see the need to tell Dillinger’s story.
Depp is great in this film, as always. He always brings a little extra to his characters. He seems to have captured who John Dillinger was. Marion Cotillard as Dillinger’s girlfriend, Billie, is good as well. She’s one tough cookie. Their chemistry is decent.
Crudup as Hoover is pretty stiff, but that is on purpose. He does capture the accent and the voice inflections nicely. Bale is different as the federal agent who will stop at nothing to apprehend a criminal. I had lost a little respect for Bale after his hissy fit on the set of Terminator Salvation, but with each film, he is regaining it. Although, he still needs to work on the scratchy voice he seems to need in the new Batman films. Can you say overkill?
I would also like to mention the great cinematography of Public Enemies. Now I’m not sure how good it is to notice the cinematography of a film, because it could be an indication that the film is boring. But, the film wasn’t too painful. And, Dante Spinotti does a great job.
Did I like Public Enemies? Sure, as a one-time watch. I don’t necessarily see myself adding it to my extensive DVD collection. But the film does try to have heart, even though the heart is in the woman who suffers a hefty interrogation to save her man.
John Dillinger wasn’t a heinous man, but I don’t see the Robin Hood everyone paints him out to be. He seems more like a man who was great at evading the police and getting money. His fame moreso lies in helping the FBI become more of a law enforcement entity against criminals who cross state lines.
Honestly, I wasn’t really moved by this story. I’d rather see other stories make it to the big screen, like the upcoming Amelia Earhart story. Now, there’s someone who really made history.