Public Enemies (15)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Channing Tatum, Stephen Graham, Marion Cotillard, Christian Bale, Billy Crudup
Director: Michael Mann
Running time: 140 minutes
There’s something incredibly sinisterly sexy about a man who promises to protect you until the day you die, all the while robbing banks at gunpoint to ensure your future will be secure. Such was the life of one John Dillinger (Johny Depp); thus is the film about his life, Public Enemies. He took whatever he wanted and nobody could stop him.
John Dillinger was from Indiana and spent his time traveling between states robbing banks. He walked and dined amongst the public and was never caught. A film about someone’s life will always contain only the most exciting and riveting factors that are vital to their character building. You’ll have to forgive it for centrally revolving around banks, money and Dilliger’s love life; more specifically, a lady called Billie Fréchette (Marion Cotillard). Although Mann would like us to believe that we are following a story about the capture of three well-known criminals from the 1930s – Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum), Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) and John Dillinger – and that the Depression is in full swing, we are really only watching Dillinger’s attempts to seduce Fréchette, with a few intervals of Melvin Purvis’ (Christian Bale’s) feeble attempts to actually try to capture Dillinger.
As a stand-alone film (disregarding the book it’s based on), it is quite poignant. The life for these gangsters in the 1930s was very different to the average person. But, there really wasn’t much point in pointing that out and using it as a marketing tool if it didn’t mean anything to the overall layout – which it doesn’t. This production would have actually worked better as a concept if it mimicked the chase depicted in Catch Me If You Can. The joys of running away from the police by the law-breakers and the heartache of the law enforcers (notably how much sleep they lose over continually failing to capture the criminals) are two things are missing from this film. What’s also missing is the thrill of robbing the banks. They all just seem to walk in and walk out of the banks with a fair amount of ease. Perhaps it is easy when you’re carrying a semi-automatic weapon.
There are, however, some very beautiful scenes where you’re kept on the edge of your seat as the tension cuts through the silence. Mix together Mann’s gangster film background, Depp’s pretty deadly face and the expressionist era and you are left with some very charismatic scenes that make the hairs on your neck stand to attention. One very scene is near the end of the film, where Dillinger actually walks into the Chicago Police Station and through the department where the cops are working on his case. I spent the entire time watching in awe as this all unfolded, praying to the stars that he wasn’t noticed. Whether or not he was I’ll leave up to you to find out. I also took great pleasure in later finding out that such arrogance was actually displayed by the real John Dillinger and that he did in fact walk through the police station in such a fashion (this was only confirmed by Dillinger, mind, but I’d like it to be true).
There are some great performances and some equally perfectly edited cops and robbers scenes. The standoff with the cops in the little house in the woods brought you back to how things were done in those days, instead of the police simply blowing everything up in true 21st century style. Ironically, I did manage to overhear in another screening a few weeks ago that Bale was heavily edited out of this film so as to make it more Johnny Depp’s. There was no real explanation given, but maybe the man was right, who knows. Given Bale’s recent tirades on set it’d be the utmost in being hoist by his own petard if this was one of the reasons they decided to make it Depp’s film. And that it is. Additionally, whilst on the run and soon to be sent back to his hometown, Dillinger famously once stated, “There is absolutely nothing I want to do in Indiana” – and I dare say I have to agree with him.
John Dillinger took whatever he wanted and nobody could stop him. Or so he thought.
Public Enemies gets a squiffy three and a half from me.