As a huge Johnny Depp and Christian Bale fan, I was curious when reviews started pouring in and friends kept talking to me about Public Enemies, since most of them felt mixed. I didn’t get it. How could a movie with Michael Mann directing, starring these two plus Marion Cotilliard, possibly be bad?
Let’s set the record straight here- this is not a bad movie. It’s very strong. But like any movie, it’s got some problems.
The film revolves around John Dillinger (Depp), a real-life bank robber in the 1930s, and his heists, robberies, escapes from jail, and love life. Along the way we get to know about his gang and the police hell bent on capturing him.
First and foremost, this movie is slow. While the bank robberies and car chases are action packed, loud, and fast paced, they are often few and far between. Most scenes with dialogue sort of quietly slug their way along. These scenes, although slow, give use chance to learn about and fall in love with John Dillinger.
What we don’t learn much about is Christian Bale’s character, Melvin Purvis, which is my biggest problem with this movie. Melvin is in charge of catching Dillinger, and although the movie does show us that this guy is good at his job, I just didn’t care about him enough. I was given no reason to want him to succeed at apprehending Dillinger, because Purvis has no backstory, no motivation. Dillinger, though, I was enamored with.
He’s smart, suave, in love, has friends. Plus, Johnny Depp’s acting is superb. But the character is so well-developed that it isn’t hard to like him over Purvis. It’s hard to want him to get caught. Where the film really soars is the relationship between Dillinger and Billie Frenchette (Cotilliard). The scenes between the two were emotional and passionate, which could be attributed to their acting skills or just the material, but my heart broke watching the two of them just the same.
Visually, the film looks and feels fantastic. Mann’s documentary style added to the realistic of the piece, since it’s a true story, although some shots looked a bit frantic or unplanned. There was something odd about the sound editing where voices would sound muffled when they shouldn’t have, but the film had some great music.
Overall, this film maintained the authenticity associated with a film based off of real life events, while still maintaining my interest. As someone unfamiliar with the story of John Dillinger, I didn’t ever feel lost or uninformed and while Depp never disappoints, this isn’t Bale’s strongest role.