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. @Daniel, I’m just holding him on the same standard as I would anyone. So Fame hasn’t affected my opinion on him one bit, but you’ve already admitted that you defend famous people, although you’ve stated a reason for it.

    I don’t know why you’re so focused on the smileys, it’s like a weird obsession for you, you think they have more meaning than they really do, did your professor in Psychology 101 claim there was something to it? LOL

    And I’m not taking it personally, I honestly thought your statement was funny. Unlike some others, when I use smiley’s or say lol or whatever, I actually mean it, I laughed reading that, so don’t worry, not offended or taking anything personal. :-) (oh nooes, what does that one mean?? haha)

  2. Whatever you say Kenj. ;-) lol

  3. Ken him being famous has everything to do with what you are saying about him. Because if he wasn’t famous you would have no idea about anything that happens to him just like the 90% of the population that goes through their day never making it on to your radar. He is in the press so the mistakes that any normal person can make get put out in the public for everyone to see when he does it. The stress alone to try and appear perfect when everyone is peaking in on your life is enough to keep someone on edge. Two incidents compared to most celebs who are in the press every week for all the things they do I think says more about him.

  4. Whatever you say dude. I’m not even talking about frequency or anything, if anyone I know throws a tantrum like that (anyone over 5 years old at least), I will tell them they have problems, lol. But hey, if you think I should hold this guy at a different standard because he’s famous and goes through “stress” (since we all live stress free lives and all) I guess that sounds completely fair… :-P

    It’s just funny that not all celebrities act in this way even though they are famous too… Strange… Must be his diet…

    And you know, funny thing, you say famous people have their problems out in the public so you always see what happens, then you also say just how common it is for people to break out into 5-10 minute tantrums, yet how come we haven’t heard of any other celebrity doing it then? Common + publicity should mean we should see this all the time no? Stupid crew, they are slacking, need to bring us more recordings of every other celebrity breaking out into a full blown mental break-down… We need some free entertainment in this economy :-D

  5. That’s not at all what I said. I never said hold him at different standards. I said you dont know him or what his life is like. I said you don’t know what was going on in his life at the time. I’m not talking about holding him at different standards. I’m talking about how you have a group of people that you know and in comparison to the entire world they are a very tiny group. People sometimes snap. Lots of things build up in your life and if you live to be 70 maybe you had one incident in your life where you just lost it and went off for 5 mins on someone. Most people have had something like that at least one time in their life.

    Say what ever you want this is a pointless argument. Just continue to make your self feel better and go on with your day.

  6. Normal or not… that tantrum was hilarious… especially the way that “family guy” used it…lol. I just wish i was there to see it… i’d still be laughing now. I just feel sorry for the dude that brought his beverages the rest of the day…”H-here’s y-your c-c-c-coff-ee Mr. Bale”…lol.

  7. @Daniel

    All I said is that he has problems, and since when did that NOT start with what’s going on? He still has problems! lol. Lots of people live stressful lives, yet only a few would have the energy to go off like that. Just like how so many people live in poverty yet only some decide to live a life of crime. Can’t blame everything on your surroundings or your circumstances. But it’s ok if you want to keep thinking that I’m the one that has to tell myself something to make myself feel better. I really can care less which celebrity is crazy, full of him/herself or not. You’re the one that seems to need to defend him from all criticism…

    Eh, you know what it’s ok, I’m sure you’re right, Christian Bale is probably completely normal and I’m sure he’s a really nice guy if you get to know him. Only way to know for sure is to meet him.


    I personally liked when they used a clip in the Transforminators spoof trailer lol, that and Shia LeGoof’s “Nononononononono!” lol

  8. @ken j
    whoever impersonated him for the little bits when he said transformers or sweet cars did a pretty good job unless they actually found those audio bits somewhere… but that was hilarious as well…lol. Wish they would have used shia’s screaming like a girl that he did in tf2… for a part of the transforminators trailer.

  9. @jago

    Yah, all of my friends that I showed that to commented that it sounded like Christian Bale, haha.

  10. To change the subject for a moment: just returned home from seeing the film. All this ranting about Christian Bale and who was great or good or so so. This movie was Billie’s from the first we saw her. Maybe the “spark” that we feel is missing is that we did not see enough of her. There’s the true loyalty. You can’t trust honor and loyalty among thieves. And was Purvis really that kind to Billie? I’m glad we were given the chance to see the humanity of Melvin Purvis before he went back to completing his assignment.

  11. Dillinger and Billie were the heart of the film .
    Purvis was a bit part.

  12. But certainly an important bit part. Don’t you think he disapproved of the tactics J. Edgar demanded of him? Purvis wanting to know what Dillinger whispered made him more human IMO. And for a woman(me)to hear those last words repeated to Billie was heartbreaking. We’re suckers for a love story; there just wasn’t enough of that story to get women back into the theaters for a second go round.

  13. Agree with Gary! The intensity between John and Billie is the only true story thread that made me feel anything significant. I thought it was just me being a chick… ;)

  14. librarylady ,
    Purvis reminded me of Kevin Costners portrayal Of Elliot Ness from The Untouchables .
    But The trailers and ads suggested that the film was basically a battle between Dillinger and Purvis.
    Thats What I was sold.
    Thats not what I got.
    So I was a little dissapointed with the film.
    But Michael Mann did a good job,
    He really captured 1930s Chicago quite well .
    It felt quite authentic.
    And as I said Depp and Marion Cottiard delivered some fine performances .
    So, ultimately those 3 things saved the film for me.

  15. J-Dawg, Bale, and Marion all gave wonderful performances, but i think Bale’s character was just not… i don’t know. it seemed like he was just there. But he is a great actor and he did a great job.

  16. Michael Mann has made some dumb movies but he’s no slacker, I think he’s a pretty good director. That was the only thing that kind of drew me to this movie.

  17. Finally got to see it. Bale had a great performance, but his part wasn’t written that well. The movie wasn’t at all how it was sold. LIke others have said I expected a battle between Bale and Depp and instead we got a very sub par empty story. More focus on the romance that was uninteresting than the battle of wits. Ultmately I came out of the film filling pretty empty. Didn’t care to much for the film which sucks because I was hyped for it. I will say probably Depp’s best performance I have seen. I can’t normally stand the guy, but he stood out in this film by acting different than he has in any other role. For the first time I felt like Depp was actually doing something different and I was impressed. Now he can go back to the crappy Pirates franchise.

  18. Sometimes, especially when a movie is promoted on tv, the hype is overblown. The best lines were in the promotion; I guess we wanted more of that when we put our money down. As much as I love Johnny Depp’s face (all of them… since he is constantly redesigning himself), it made no sense to have so many closeups. My husband will never believe I said that. I’m through ranting now. Thanks for the discussion.

  19. @Daniel F

    Bale had a “great performance”?

    I obviously didn’t see the same movie. I thought Bale was actually horrible in the role. His accent was so distractingly bad my brother and I rolled our eyes as we watched him. I agree with your other points about the movie, however. Depp was very good and the lead actress (name escapes me) was good as well. Overall I give it a 6 out of 10. Decent rental, but don’t throw down 7-12 bucks for it.

  20. @INK

    Be careful what you say about the savior Christian Bale. He’s behind only Obama in the can’t say anything bad about him without flames department…

  21. @ ken j
    Very true… Funny though that little by little he’s becoming more of a supporting actor and maybe even just guest cameo with every film he does.

  22. I think he’s becoming more judicious in his choice of roles, which is smart (particularly once associated with Batman) for a far-arching career.

  23. I actually enjoyed the rant that Bale went on, I got a pretty good kick out of it, then when they spoofed it on Family Guy it was even better!!

    I am hopefully seeing this movie this weekend. I like both Bale and Depp (dont worry Ken, they arent the all mighty to me lol, actually Bale was terrible in the Dark Knight, it was all Ledger) so I think I will enjoy this movie.

  24. I saw it yesterday and agree that it should have focused more on Dillinger vs. Pervis. At times I was bored; I actually yawned and started getting sleepy. Someone also said it should have had a better soundtrack, and I agree. The acting was good but it should have been more Untouchables-like. I’d say 2.5, maybe 3, out of 5.

  25. Here’s the deal. When Dillinger was in business, smarmy J. Edgar Hoover was promoting the fledgling FBI to Congress.
    Purvis was Hoover’s flunky who was supposed to bring glory to the new concept of having a national agency to go after criminals. Dillinger was quickly becoming a small time criminal robbing banks for chump change while the rest of the gangster world was moving on to bigger and better crimes. Purvis was not up to the task and IMO Bale played his roll correctly…unprepared and with a lack of ruthlessness. Hence, all the bungled shootouts. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes than one cop going after one gangster. As the FBI progressed and picked up tactics such as trading immunity for information and even beating up Billie for information, Dillinger was desperately brought down as a token sacrifice of what this brand new FBI under J.Edgar Hoover could accomplish. Meanwhile, the real public enemies were becoming behind the scenes organized crime that still exists today. Who were the real public enemies then? Who are the public enemies today? Want to know more about Hoover and the FBI? Google or better yet,
    get a book or two from THE LIBRARY.

  26. @librarylady
    I go to the movies to be entertained. We have books, the History Channel, Discovery Channel, PBS, and TLC for the real history. The movie did show some of what you posted but I didn’t want to see how his relationship with Billie evolved, I wanted gun fights and tactics. While the movie was good in some areas, it bored me in others.

  27. Hi everybody,
    I had high expectations of this film. How could you not Dillinger, Baby face Nelson, Michael Mann, Depp, and Bale?

    Boy, was I disapointed all action,no character development.
    I need to care about a character before he gets shot even if was in the back. Everybody is raving about Depp’s acting I thought he was mediocrate at best the character had no edge come on! your John Dillinger not Robin Hood. What happen to the edge he brought to Sweeney Todd.

    Bale- When did he stop acting, The Dark Knight, Terminator Salvation, and now Public Enemies What happen to the actor I saw in that little known film about the returning war vet trying to become a cop-what a great performance and very edgy.

    And what a waste of Baby Face Nelson Character- Did anybody see the Baby Face Nelson Character protrayed in “Oh brother where art thou” now that was a character?

    Did anybody review the dailies on this one?

  28. I wish I rented this one instead of blowing one of my Regal unrestricted movie passes.

    You were generous, Vic. I give it a 2.5 It wasn’t bad…it just wasn’t good.

    And historically inaccurate to boot.

    Save your money or wait for the dollar theater.

  29. So we don’t care for historical movies, but we insist that they be accurate if we mistakenly waste our money to see one. I’ve been pondering this evening while watching a tv movie (Hallmark Channel as a matter of fact) about the treatment of Geronimo and indian army scouts in Arizona that were rounded up and sent to Florida. Shameful history really. How many award winning movies would not have been made if all we wanted to see were horror films, cartoons, comic book characters, hobbits, wizards, and futuristic star wars. There’s a place for all that, too, but leave some room for the film that leaves you with some knowledge of what we used to be. As for O Brother Where Art Thou, it couldn’t have been made without a sense of the history of that time. George Clooney was as funny as I’ve ever seen him! You could save yourselves a lot of grief if you do a little homework before you head off to the movies. If it’s not your “style”, save your money for the next one.