Public Enemies

publicenemiesmike Mann, Depp, Dillinger. Throw in a bit of Bale and you have an explosive mix of cinematic talent that can't fail to draw interest, not least here at OWF where Alex Diaz has given us some excellent insights into previous portrayals of the intriguing gangster. But how does Mann handle him? And can Depp tone down his characteristic quirkiness for the part? The combination of Mann and Depp worked surprisingly well, with Dillenger shown less as a guns-blazin' gangster (that role is filled by Stephen Graham's Baby Face Nelson) and more as a man of morals who knows nothing except how to rob banks: and do it with style. Early scenes show him returning money to customers and avoiding bloodshed at all costs. His romance with Billie Frechette is brought in nice and early to expand Dillenger's stong, silent character into the realms of love and chivalry and the dynamic with the various characters of his gang work to make Dillenger stand out as an intelligent and thoughtful character rather than just a violent crook. All of this panders to Depp's strengths and he delivers a performance to remember. All of his expert knowledge of playing mysterious souls is internalised, giving the impression of a man with a tumultuous inner world that can never be fully understood. The idea is that he is pitted against a similarly tortured soul in Melvin Purvis (Bale) the man from Hoover's newly established FBI who is sent out with the goal of catching Dillenger at any cost. This battle of the best comes off as far too close to HEAT for my liking, and it doesn't come anywhere near the dizzy heights of this classic crime flick. Bale does his best to match Depp, smouldering with his Batman-honed intensity (though mercifully without his trademark growl) but he just doesn't have the frantic energy of Pacino that made the pairing work so well back in 1995. That's not to say there's nothing going for PUBLIC ENEMIES, on the contrary, once Mann is done establishing his characters the film begins to get down to the most interesting element he brings to the project: the saddening decline of a giant. Dillenger does get cocky, he continues to live the life that he was born to, he goes to the races and the movies, and he goads the cops by brazenly walking into the 'Dillinger division' and strolling around. But the world around him has subtly changed. Public opinion begins to turn as robbers like Babyface Nelson become drunk with their own sense of power, and rob and kill without mercy, Dillinger's attachment to Billie becomes a strategic and emotional handicap to his precarious profession, and Purvis becomes ever more rabid in his pursuit of the gangsters whose heads Hoover craves so much. These elements come across perfectly, and are supplemented by some amazing action sequences. The shoot-out at the Little Bohemia Lodge is perfect for Mann's modus operandi, and the dark woods surrounding the building provide ample atmosphere for the blazing gun battles and the chase as some of the gang attempt to flee the scene. It is this scene too where Bale begins to shine, and Purvis goes from being an ordinary cop to a man desperate for the kill. This ups the tempo and injects some much needed tension for the countdown to the final scenes, which are executed with skill and flair. Coming out of the film though, I was left a little cold. Some things just didn't add up. Dillinger was a little too balanced, Purvis not quite unhinged enough to explain his subsequent suicide, and the cinematography a little too close to the gritty hand-held camera world that Mann loves so much. Maybe I wanted some more of the legend in there, something a bit more grandstanding, a traditional smack in the guts from the gangsters; but maybe it was just that too close to HEAT and the Mann of old, which is hardly a criticism at all! Regardless of these vagaries, this is a film that is well worth watching and brings some much-needed discussion points to a summer of mediocrity.
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Michael Edwards hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.

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