Public Enemies (2009)

Public Enemies (2009)

2009 R 140 Minutes

History | Crime | Drama

Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger's charm and audacity endear him to much of America's downtrodden public, but he's also a thorn in the side of J. Edgar Hoover and the fledgling FBI. Desper...

Overall Rating

8 / 10
Verdict: Good

User Review

  • WHAT I LIKED: 'Public Enemies,' has a script primarily concerned with the bare bones of its plot, but what makes it engaging to watch is that it's all delivered by Michael Mann - a director who has shown time and time again that he cares most of all about people. Here he lingers his camera so intently and swerves it so deftly around his characters' faces so you feel like an active participant in their struggles rather than a casual observer. You can see everything they feel and thus get a genuine sense of what nervous little boys lie beneath the toxic exteriors of both Johnny Depp's gung-ho gangster figure John Dillinger, and Christian Bale's macho FBI investigator Melvin Purvis. They're both just folks driven at every turn by a wish to prove their invincibility.

    It's ultimately that focus on the nuances of the individuals - along with the masterful performances (particularly from Depp) that bring them to life - which makes you invest in the story, and it's testament to Mann's sensibilities that he manages to bring that out.

    WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Strip that away, and - beyond some tokenistic stuff about public attitudes towards gangsters - you've got yourself an annoyingly plot-driven film. Most scenes are merely there to develop the intricacies of Purvis' investigation and Dillinger's attempts to stay one step ahead of him, and that in itself isn't hugely interesting because you're just waiting and longing for the inevitable to happen and for Dillinger to be taken down. It's made more engaging by Mann's attempts to get under the skin of the characters, but the script does little to genuinely develop them and delve into what really makes them tick and find the reason they live the lives they do. That's a shame, because given what Mann and his cast were able to do with this script, it only makes you long to see what he could have done with this world had they been given something that delved a little deeper and was less obsessed with such mechanical intricacies.

    VERDICT: 'Public Enemies,' is a plot-driven gangster film elevated by Mann's focus on the people within it and the performances bringing them to life.