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. i really liked it, loooved the shooting scenes; those shotgun blasts (the sound) in the cabin scene were intense. I love digital sound! :). It was a little bit long, those “dramatic stare downs or pause scenes were a little long.
    Over all good action, awesome action, good story.

    My biggest peve was..

    the end scene were john was shot down.. cgi blood..and it was was cgi blood. took me out of the whole movie. they should not have showed it in slow-mo. yuck.

    but i agree with your review. 3.5. go see this instead of transformers. blackbird

  2. No joke!!!

    I was also gonna say just like in “Heat” the main character/gang was taken down by his love/distraction of a women… 8-O

  3. @790 u consult some horror special effect… do the cgi good or dont show the blast at all and just come back to the shot.. i just really hate cgi blood and cgi gore effects.. ya know especially in horror movies when u can use a simple rig up and corn syrup :P lol

  4. @790 i dunno it just bugged me… maybe i just didnt want that scene to happen that way it did.

    i wanted him to live and run away lol
    during the scene where he just enters that police station i just hoped he found some kinda clue what was going to go down and he would run away….
    i asked a couple of other people and they felt the same way… when u got good film making, you care about the characters and when harm comes their way in which u know its gunna happen and theirs no way to change it… you still hope a lil.

  5. LOL ogb, I saw both Batmans, Rescue Dawn, 3:10 to Yuma, Terminator Salvation, I LOVE Equilibrium, Prestige, American Psycho… Anyway, point is, I like Christian Bale, but he’s not like the almighty god of actors like people are making him out to be, and that’s what I don’t understand. Same with Johnny Depp, but I like him slightly less (his movies, not him as a person). Sorry I’m actually objective and am not a fanboy for everything…

    I act like a fanboy for certain things, just not as much as some others.

    Anyway ogb, I might end up watching this, but right now I’m too broke to be in any kind of hurry to do so…

  6. I get what you’re saying Ken

    I’m not a fan boy either, but to put things in perspective, I think people forget that acting requires range, not just your presence on screen. The most talented actors are the ones that can play different roles naturally (after having practiced it and having put the work in, like Ledger did by locking himself up in a hotel work before Dark Knight).

    I’m broke too lol, and when I’m not I still can’t pay the 12 bucks, just way too high. So I always buy the children’s pass, lol.

  7. “i wanted him to live and run away”

    but that’s not what really happened :)

  8. ogb,
    in his last film mr.Brooks Costner played a SERIAL KILLER!
    He also played violent criminals in 3000 Miles to Graceland and A Perfect World .

  9. Even if you have JDO/CD (Johnny Depp obsessive/compulsive disorder), if you truly let yourself get involved with the movie, you forget the actor and enjoy the character. Another example would be John Wayne. Western or War, John Wayne was always John Wayne. If the actor transforms enough that the viewer forgets him/her that is performing the part, that to me is “acting”.

  10. I think Bale is an amazing actor who since he yell fest gets a lot of disrespect. Before it everyone praised him then they all turned on him. Depp I consider over rated most of his roles are similar and he loves to make horrible films.

  11. Gary, Costners not bad but he’s a real jerk in person.
    Its actually hurt his career as some actors/Directors won’t work him.

  12. Well, I thought Depp and Bale were great in this movie, and the scene in the police station in Miami I think it was where Bale came in and he and Depp had a little conversation was probably my favorite scene. But, although Depp and Bale were both great, I’d say this movie was just good and not great. I’m not sure what it was, maybe I just wasn’t all that interested in the story or because a few scenes dragged on a little bit and weren’t that interesting IMO, but there was just a little something missing from taking it to that great level where you can’t wait to buy it on DVD when it comes out, you know?

  13. I’ve just seen the film and I think it was good. Not really good, and definitely not exelent or awesome. Yeah, there were some great scenes and my favourite was Dillinger’s second escape from prison. But overall, I too felt it misses something that makes films like this much better. Johnny Depp was again great as he usually is and Marion Cotillard was really good too. Bale was the weakest of the three, he was nor bad nor good. I loved how Dillinger’s fall came, it was very believable. Anyways, I’m giving it 4 out of 5.

  14. LOL, I would classify 4 out of 5 as “really good.” :-P


  15. Actually Daniel, my opinion on Bale’s acting has never changed, but my attitude toward his off-camera personality changed with every convention that he refused to show up or record anything for, his assault allegations against his own mother and sister (charged or not, if it got to that point where cops were called, he definitely wasn’t showing his family the respect they deserve), and then the 5 minute tantrum he threw just more or less confirms my attitude toward his off-camera personality. But didn’t affect my opinion on his acting.

  16. It’s an entertaining movie but it lacks something special, i dont now what.

    Bale’s character is not developed too much imo. Depp is great. There are to many closeups in this movie, why? Sometimes you cant see what’s happening. Thats awful.

    Some scenes are more clearer than another and thats a little disburting, did anyone notice that?

  17. I saw the movie last night. WOW. Loved it. Once again Johnny Depp nailed it. The opening scene was good and i didn’t expect (SPOILER WARNING) that guy to be with him. Great. i gave it a 4.5 out of 5 stars

  18. I feel like this was a “good” movie, yet it just didn’t pop the way I expected it to. It’s worth seeing ‘big’ for the artistry, but maybe just a rental for the layer-less story. See my review at GAB AND DAD.

  19. Ken from all the details that were leaked about the so called assault on his family I’m on Bales side. From what I heard they were insulting his wife extremely bad. Calling her all kinds of horrible names and he got mad raised his voice and went to leave, but on his way out he was leaving angry and accidentally bumped his mom’s shoulder. That’s what all the reports I have read said.

    As for the on set tirade I’m sure you have never had a bad day and lost your cool. Most people have though.

  20. I’m with Daniel. Sounds like Bale’s mother & sister were trying to manipulate him and the media; unfortunately it goes into public court, when most family dysfunction gets to remain private. Same with his rant – we all lose our temper, but most of us aren’t mic’ed at the time…. As for Bale’s shunning of publicity, well, he’s trying to keep as much privacy as possible; considering the aforementioned issues, who can blame him. His talent speaks for itself.

    And yes I have always had a crush on him!

  21. If that incident with Bale’s family had happened in LA it would have been covered up. (Not leaked out) (IMO)

  22. Uuuhhhh, if you go off on a 5-10 minute tirade, you have problems. That’s not “losing your cool.” Losing your cool is accidentally yelling at someone or cursing at someone once, you SHOULD realize the mistake right away unless the other party perpetuates it into an argument. That’s not the case here, the guy he was yelling at was apologizing, everyone else was trying to cool him down, yet he just kept going on his own…

    If you have done the same, I suggest going to therapy or just start taking the drugs now because you have problems…

    It is not at all “normal.”

    And I don’t know about you, but unless he just happens to have the most screwed up family in the world, I’ve argued with my sister and mother before, never was the cops called on me. But I guess since Bale is the famous one you’ll take his word over the word of two other people, but it’s ok… But for me, I know he looks down on others, so he’s definitely capable of taking a normal argument to the next level. But I guess that’s simply “impossible” according to some people…

    Whatever, his acting is what’s important since that’s what we pay him for, MOST celebrities are a-holes who are full of themselves, don’t know why it’s such a hard thing to grasp just because it’s Christian Bale…

  23. What ever you say Ken I say it’s very normal. Every person I have ever met has had at least one moment where they just lost it. By all means feel free to judge though I’m sure you know everything involved with the situation and everything that was going on in his life. You can properly judge him.

    It wouldn’t be the most screwed up family in the world there have been plenty of screwed up ones that were worse. By the way his family dropped the charges the police declarred him innocent sided with his story his family even still talks to him and everything. The entire issue was cleared up and ended.

    It’s not about it being Christian Bale it’s about judging people you don’t know. I defend most famous people when someone talks trash with out ever having met them or gotten to know them. Their famous so it’s easy to talk crap about them to make your self feel better.

  24. Wow, must be something in the water because nobody I know has even threw a 10 minute tantrum. We’ve all “lost our cool” before, my friends conside me to have the shortest temper, and all that means is that when someone pisses me off and I “lose my cool” I tell the person to his/her face that he’s an idiot or that she has no clue what she’s talking about or whatever. Even when I raise my voice, once I’ve said what I want to say, it’s done, no need to go on and on and on and on and on and on about it for 5-10 minutes. That’s utterly ridiculous, and same with everyone I know, I don’t know anyone, even people I don’t like, who have gone off on a tirade like that. He must have paused for a water break in the middle of that because I know my throat would have been parched half way through that speech…

    Heck, I work in an environment where I see people when they’re not at their best all the time, and even people we needed to get the cops for haven’t gone on tirades that long. We usually call for the detail officer WELL before it gets carried on that long…

    Heck, even counting baker acted patients that needed to be transported to the psych ward haven’t carried on that long in the three years I’ve worked here… Even they know to calm down after a minute or two…

    So weird, and normal people where you live go off on 5-10 minute tirades and this is considered normal? We must live on different planets… haha :-P

    Must be the wackos from the west coast… lol, just kidding 790 ;-)

  25. And it’s nothing to do with them being famous, I judge people the same regardless of their fame. If ANYONE, famous or not, goes on a 5-10 minute tirade, I think they have major issues. Someone must be really full of themselves to think they can stand up on a soap box and rant to someone for 5-10 minutes while they apologize to you. But I guess I’M the weird one for not blindly defending him just because he’s famous…

  26. Ken you should check out the film.”Swimming with Sharks” starring Keven Spacey…

    You sound like you have lived a sheltered life.
    Lol. ;-)

  27. LMAO, oh yah, very sheltered, HAHAHA. Oh man, where should I begin… Ah, don’t worry about it, no need to shatter any bubbles…

  28. I’m not saying everyone I know does it all the time. I’m saying everyone I know has done it at least once. We just have had a moment where things in our life were not going so great and we were just having a horrible week and one person just pushed us over the edge.

    If I’m blindly defending your blindly judging and insulting. I’m not putting anyone up on a peddastole here I’m just saying you have no interaction with these people and shouldn’t judge.,

  29. Oh don’t take it personal Ken J, Lol ;-), I put the standard
    Lol ;-) the same Lol :-) you always use…