Public Enemies Review

Published 6 years ago by

Short version: While Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is very good, it’s missing the spark that could have pushed it to “great.”

public enemies trailer Public Enemies Review
Screen Rant reviews Public Enemies

If you’re looking for a low key alternative to the summer blockbuster movie season, then you’ll welcome the Michael Mann-directed Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard. Having said that, don’t expect to be blown away by this surprisingly low-key film.

In Public Enemies we are presented with a (seemingly) romanticized story of the fall of John Dillinger, famous bank robber of the 1930s. Johnny Depp brings his considerable screen charisma to the role of Dillinger, while Christian Bale has the unenviable position of playing the fairly dour Melvin Purvis – the FBI agent that brought Dillinger down.

Right from the start of the film we get a sense of Dillinger’s loyalty to his gang, his skill at planning and the outrageous level of confidence of the man. He’s been separated from his cohorts, but is soon reunited and is back in the groove, knocking off banks in less than two minutes “flat.” We are also shown a “popular” side when he robs banks but does not take any money from customers that are present. He seems to care for the plight of the average person during this era of the Great Depression – but there is some self-serving at work as well: He is quite aware of his popularity with the general public and goes out of his way to cultivate a “star” persona.

His uber-confident personality is also demonstrated in his approach to Billie Frachette (played by Marion Cotillard) – a no-nonsene, not a doubt in his mind that she will be his attitude that of course turns out to be correct. She is a bit hesitant when she learns who he is, but his reaction to her checkered history (it doesn’t bother him at all) and his supreme confidence wins her over. However she is far from a pushover or someone who is easily misled or manipulated by him.

J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) is gaining power in Washington D.C. and is in the process of forming the FBI. In order to prove his (and his organization’s) worth to political doubters he makes the capture of John Dillinger his number one priority and puts agent Purvis (Christian Bale) in charge. Hoover is all about modern scientific methods instead of brute force, but it turns out that it will take a combination of that and some “old school” to capture the Dillinger gang.

We get to see a bit of Dillinger in his glory, but eventually we see the downfall of him and his gang. He is portrayed as a bad guy who is so charming that you actually feel bad for him when he finally goes down – what you have to keep in mind of course is that even if he’s not doing (much) killing himself, his “boys” certainly aren’t shy about it. There’s plenty of gunfire and blood in the film, but director Michael Mann manages to make you feel empathy towards Depp’s character, even though Dillinger shows no remorse about his life of crime.

Outside of Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard, who were both VERY good in the film (really when ISN’T Depp great?) the film seemed to keep the audience at arm’s length. It just felt kind of distant and quiet despite the violence and some really great shoot-outs. Christian Bale was good, and he left the gravel out of his voice for this role, but for me he never really disappeared into the role the way that Depp did.

The other thing that was very different about Public Enemies is that it was shot digitally – there was no “film” feel to it… it looked more like how a Blu-ray disc looks on an HDTV. Overly crisp, detailed and bright. I like that look on my TV, but on the big screen of a movie theater it just seemed odd and out of place.

Overall if you’re a fan of Johnny Depp and crime dramas (this isn’t an action film, folks) then I think you’ll enjoy Public Enemies.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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  1. Good review Vic. I agree the film was a bit detached I think some of the scenes should have been cut a little tighter. (This seems to be Mann’s weakness in his old age, see Miami Vice)
    Also the handheld Digital cameras they were using distracted me at least twice in the film. I would have prefered a Steadycam on those shots.
    I thought the HD look of the film was stunning. Forget 3D! I think/hope this is the next step in movie picture quality. It really looked amazing in some shots. Very clean,,,
    Also the sound effects on the Tommy Guns, etc were very authentic. They sounded like the black powder lower quality weapons of that era.

    One thing that kinda let me down was the ending. I realise Mann was sticking to the original history of Dillenger so It was acceptable,,,but there was a great hiest about to go down that we missed.
    Overall Depp was pretty damn Depptastic and always had a cool southern drawl going. Bale was also pretty anal (in a good way) as the FBI agent in charge. His performance makes his acting in Terminator Salvation look twice as bad as it was. ;-)
    Marion Cotillard was pretty good as well. She went from annoying to redemable in the end…
    Lastly I think the score was half assed,,, a more invested sountrack would have added more life to this film… Still a summer film to watch at least once. Its worth the money.

  2. “Dillinger” 8-O

  3. Additional,,, it was a very low-key storyline but it was interesting to see the Federal Governments rise to power in this film.
    Interesting to see Hoover played as a good guy… Guy ended up as a total traitor to this country. (IMO)

  4. Blasphemous! Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in a movie and someone didn’t say it was 5 out of 5??? MOB MOB MOB!!! lol, just kidding. I never really understood the huge deal some people make out of those two…

  5. Ken J, I met Jonny Depp once and he’s a totally real dude that is very appreciative of his fans. Very nice guy for an A-list actor.

  6. Ken J, not to call you out, but you’re the most negative person on this board. Every single time you have some wannabe witty remark about how bad something was.

    Anyway, this movie was great, but there was that certain something that was missing. Heat had it. This didn’t. Still great though.

  7. Ogb, yeah I agree, I’m going to end up buying this movie on dvd. Great performances.

  8. i liked it but i still find it weird that with those 2 big names… depp and bale it was sooo low key. Depends on the extra features for me to get it on dvd…and/or blu-ray.

  9. @ogb
    I agree with Ken J. Let me start by saying really enjoyed this movie (far more than gayformers) but people make a big deal out of Depp and Bale when there is nothing there to make a big deal out of. They are both mediocre actors that get the praise of godly proportions. Depp is a far better actor than Bale but neither of them deserve the praise they usually receive.

    I will be buying this movie on Blu-Ray when its released.

  10. “Depp is a far better actor than Bale but neither of them deserve the praise they usually receive”

    bite your tongue

  11. Saw this yesterday, absolutely agree with your review Vic, it was surprisingly not a truly epic Mann film or something that might have resembled a true sequel to The Untouchables which I was expecting.
    Depp is good in the role and I prefer this Depp over his usual eccentric characters, but Bale, he was just there. Take out Bale and replace him with anyone else and it would be the same effect.
    Billy Crudup as Hoover was fantastic, and also Stephen Lang, he truly owned this picture with the amount of time given.
    790, I have the book which this film is based on, very detailed account of what happened and this film has taken liberties with the story line–the killing of Pretty Boy for instance, but the book is basically how the FBI rose to power during the time and it is a good read.
    Unlike you though, I did not enjoy the HD. I think Rob Keyes or Ross Miller said it best that this type of film needed to be on print instead of HD which I know Mann loves now.

    Overall, best movie of the summer I would say. Then again, this is really the only film I have seen this summer.

  12. @jago

    Hang on… you actually AGREE with me? :-P


  13. @Foopher
    Bite my tongue?
    I dont understand why i should. Thats my opinion.

    After thinking about who they receive praise from, i am 100% sure that you a girl that is 12-25 years old.

  14. Good job Vic….I came in with low expectations after what Trans II did to us…..but I did enjoy the film. Mann seemed like he wanted to go in a couple of different directions, but he righted the ship. Historic value? I just don’t know about that….But I liked the performances of the actors and getting to be a bigger Depp fan, I am enjoying more of his work. He is one actor who is true to the craft. Mr. Bale came across like he was in Yuma 2 at times. However I really dug the HD camera work and hand held shots. It is the 21st century and I think the HD can work in “period pieces” I think 3.5 is spot on! I have to give 790 props on his STRK comments. I was thinking the same thing, almost an after thought? The score could have been stronger.

  15. I’d say Bale and Depp are a big deal as far as acting goes. They both have amazing range.

    Depp went from being an actually believable, charismatic pirate to playing one of the most famous bank robbers.

    Bale, although a little less range, still managed to pull off a Hispanic accent/dialect in Hard Times, lost 60 lbs for Machinist, got the British accent perfect in Prestige and nailed the part of a cocky billionaire in Dark Knight.

    Those are true, talented actors.

    Actors like Kevin Costner and to a lesser degree Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Clint Eastwood, who are considered stars and great actors, don’t appeal to me that much. They play the same guy, in different roles. Rarely do they alter their acting for the role. It’s fine that people like them for being in good movies, or their personalities, but as far as acting, Bale and Depp will blow them out of the water each time.

    I’d say one of the greatest actors of the last few years is Heath Ledger just because of what he was able to do as the Joker. It was just amazing to watch. That’s true acting to me.

  16. Depp and Bale are both awesome.

    …and i’m not a girl

  17. but that’s you’re opinion and i’m cool with that

  18. foopher, I’m not a girl either. I’m a 65 year old woman. Depp got me with “Scissorhands” and hasn’t stopped since. I guess you either see it or you don’t.

  19. Out of curiosity, what is the violence/gore like in the film? Is there a good film to compare it to? I am trying to convince my girlfriend to go and she can’t handle gore/blood.

  20. @Steve

    There’s some blood, but it’s nowhere near horror-movie level.


  21. Sk-47, I was just stating that acuracy thing on how we didn’t get that train heist. :-)

    Steven, the film was just as voilent as say “Heat” there’s no heads flying off but there’s plenty of gunshot wounds and some slapping around…

  22. Great Review, I kinda loved the film.

  23. @vic
    lol… i have agreed with you before… look at the star trek review if your able to find my post. I just don’t agree with you on transformers and a couple of others that i really like for my own reasons. I don’t believe there are bad movies or good movies… just the movies “YOU” (YOU=each and every person) like or dislike… feel the same way with other means of entertainment.

    “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
    William Shakespeare…

  24. By “not a girl” i maent i’m a guy.

    I just happen to think Johnny Depp is an amazing actor. Is that so wrong?

  25. @jago

    Gonna disagree with you there – there are absolutely “good” movies and “bad” ones. I feel the same way about people. 8)


  26. @vic
    lol… then we agree to disagree and that right there is just another thing we disagree on…lol.

  27. @Iggy O Horror how else do you show blood pouring out of his face?

  28. Huh, I thought the effect looked real good. Had no probs with any of the vfx in the film.

  29. Get back !!!

    Well yeah I totally agree on that…
    Nobody wanted to see Dillinger go down not after Billie left him the note she would be there for him when she got out. The end was tragic. Especally the last scene with Billie.
    However, that is Michael Mann’style. “Heat” ended the same way. I kind of saw it coming,,,
    The scene where he’s walking through the police station was prob my favorite in the film. Dillinger is laughing in the face of law enforcment and there as he’s leaving he see’s his entire gang dead and the smile fades. Just as the scene cuts, If you listen closly to the baseball game in the background the final words of the announcer are,”and he took his eye off the ball.”

    I loved the way the story told how Dillinger’s actions formed the genesis of the FBI. Ironically if it wasn’t for criminals like Dillinger the FBI would have never been concieved or at least not for a decade or so later. Dillinger was so brazen that they changed the laws etc to deal with him. I liked how that was played out ;-)