PUBLIC ENEMIES - It's the Mann, Not the Myth!
PUBLIC ENEMIES (crime drama)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Stephen Dorff, Billy Crudup and Stephen Lang
Director: Michael Mann
Time: 140 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: As far as gangster movies go, few can match the 1967 Bonnie And Clyde, but Michael Mann's Public Enemies comes close. With the flamboyant Johnny Depp and the enchanting Marion Cottillard in the lead cast, Mann immerses us into the turbulent Thirties and keeps us enthralled and even fascinated...
THE SKINNY: Public Enemies is adapted from Bryan Burrough's book of the same name. The movie opens in 1933 with Dillinger's escape from a prison in Lima. At that point in time, Dillinger (Depp) has become one of America's most renowned gangsters and his bank robberies made the headlines.
It is in Chicago that Dillinger meets coat-check girl Billie Frechette (Cottillard, pictured above) and tells her straight away what he does for a living: "I rob banks!" She is attracted by his candid honesty and charm, they fall in love and he vows to protect her. Meanwhile, Dillinger has become an obsession for FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) and he appoints the no-nonsense agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) as the head of the Chicago office tasked with tracking down Dillinger. Purvis' initial efforts are bloody and ineffective, but he learns from his mistakes and pleads with Hoover for permission to hire a group of hardened Texas Rangers like Charles Winstead (Stephen Lang).
THE CRITIQUE: I like the way director Mann shows the man instead of the myth - and the reality instead of sentimentality. There is nothing here about John Dillinger's childhood, his psychology, his sexuality, his famous charm, or his Robin Hood legend. Mann shows Dillinger as an efficient but violent robber, driven by his own sense of values like being loyal to his men and his girl - and not robbing the bank's customers.
I also like Mann's detailed depiction of the Thirties era, sometimes shot on hand-held camera and screened in sepia hues. I read that Mann shot the scene of the famous jailbreak with the fake gun at the original Crown Point jail. He shot in the Little Bohemia Lodge in the same room that Dillinger used, and Depp is costumed in clothes to match those the bank robber left behind!
As expected, Depp delivers a compelling Dillinger whom we sympathise with despite the fact that he is a criminal and a killer. Bale's performance is okay - portraying a stereotyped role of the determined lawman. However, his character is too thinly-drawn for him to be able to do much beyond grimacing and looking serious. The show-stealer is Oscar-winner Cottillard whose supporting role makes Dillinger more of a hero than Depp does. This lady really knows how to play 'the blues'.
THE LOWDOWN: A nice change from the summer's bang-bang fantasy blockbusters.