Public Enemies - DVD Review

'if it feels familiar then that's because it is and the examination that takes place is exactly the same notional analysis of who is good and who is evil that we saw in Collateral, Heat and The Insider'

Whenever anyone mentions John Dillinger my first thought is of The Dillenger Escape Plan, a fairly rubbish hardcore-punk-screamcore-mathcore band who did quite well in the early noughties and remind me of a time when I cared enough about music to be able to distinguish between those genres and to bother to pay attention to even fairly rubbish proponents of them, such as TDEP. But I digress, because other than using him to come up with a pretty damn impressive band name, they really have nothing to do with John Dillinger or Public Enemies, the much-maligned Michael Mann film based on Brian Burrough's book about Dillinger and the formation of Hoover's F.B.I.

Although reports have generally been good this is perhaps the most criticised Mann film we've yet been exposed to with complaints ranging from the fact that Mann's favoured HD camera didn't suit the period piece tone and style (a nonsense; if we matched technology to period what would we be watching?) to criticism of some of the acting and missed opportunities with characters who come and go without a second glance.

The latter two of the above criticisms have some weight. Mann wants us to believe we are watching another DeNiro/Pacino face of a la Heat, only bringing Johnny Depp and Christian Bale (as Dillinger and F.B.I agent Melvin Purvis) together on screen on a couple of occasions but ensuring that we know they are always on each others minds. If it feels familiar then that's because it is and the examination that takes place is exactly the same notional analysis of who is good and who is evil that we saw in Collateral, Heat and The Insider.

Where it fails though is in the fact that here, Bale and Depp just don't make their characters as compelling as they should be whilst elsewhere, co-stars excel at making us care about theirs. Mairon Cotillard, Stephen Lang and Jason Clark are all brilliant and varied side projects; the gangsters moll - caught up and swept away in Dillinger's casual charm, the anonymous 'expert' from Dallas - subservient to but infinitely more intelligent and experienced than Bale's boss, Dillinger's constant accomplice - calm and calculated in the face of an ever changing cast of bank robbers and hoodlums. Each one of these feels like a story in itself and although attempts are made to conclude each of them, it never really feels like they ever began properly.

While Bale and Depp don't necessarily hold you and, certainly at least in Depp's case, may flatter to deceive, the story is never anything but gripping, pacy and thrilling. Dillinger saunters up and down the country, the gentlemen thief who gives his coat away to a robbery victim to keep her warm, never in doubt of his own propensity for escape. At only just over two hours and with so much ground to cover it feels an extremely tight effort by Mann which focuses attention on the main narrative in an almost High-Def way but sacrifices other aspects of the story as blurry vision around the edges.


  1. Currently my favorite movie of 2009.

  2. I don't think that's a bad shout at all. I thought it had some problems but I did enjoy it a lot. The 2 odd hours flew by.

  3. I love Mann but this did little for me. It felt overly long, and I never attached myself to any of the characters.

  4. Mann can't seem to win anymore - remind yourself that this is the follow-up to MIAMI VICE.

    Part of believes this is a flick that we'll warm to over time. One of those that many maligned upon release, only to look back on dvd in a few years' time and say "Hell, that wasn't so bad".

    My only problem with it, is that it feels like Depp is acting with one arm tied behind his back. His portrayal of Dillinger doesn't get much of a chance to breathe, which wastes his considerable skill. It's what takes a potentially excellent film, and holds it back to only "pretty good".