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December 2009

Public Enemies

cast: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, and Stephen Dorff

director: Michael Mann

134 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by J.C. Hartley

Public Enemies

In Raoul Walsh's High Sierra, a gangster says to Bogart's Roy 'Mad Dog' Earle that Dillinger said that guys like them were, "rushing toward death," and that's the overriding tone of this film. Like a revisionist western it deals with a passing era, as the briefly romantic bank-robbing mobsters are superseded by the organised crime of the syndicates' crooked bookmaking deals, and then hounded by the rapidly organising forces of law in the shape of the fledgling FBI.

I must be one of the few people who don't rate Michaels Mann's Heat. Too many characters, too many subplots, a non-event acting standoff between two huge egos, and a major bit of illogic straight from the off when a close-knit team of criminals admit a virtual stranger into their midst to pull off a job, an inconsistency referenced in Public Enemies when Dillinger teams up with 'Baby-Face' Nelson because there's no one else. This film is a whole lot better, even if towards the end the director seems to be pandering to the star's penchant for sunglasses, at odds with what one assumes were the fashions of the times?

Dillinger (Johnny Depp) takes part in an audacious jailbreak to spring an old friend but the raid goes wrong, through the violence of one of the inmates, which alerts the guards, violence which brings its own retribution. Bureau administrator J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup, Watchmen) is given a tough time in the courts, and so he brings in poster boy Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale, Terminator Salvation) fresh from taking down 'Pretty Boy' Floyd, to head up a 'war on crime'. Crudup's accent is probably authentic but gives the impression of listening to Eric Cartman from South Park.

Dillinger woos and wins mixed-race Native American hat-check girl Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard, A Good Year). Meanwhile, after a botched raid on a hotel in which the crime-busters target Baby-Face Nelson (Stephen Graham, Snatch, This Is England), Purvis manages to bring in professional officers to supplement his inexperienced agents. Billie is arrested and Dillinger takes up with brothel madam Anna Sage little realising that she has been threatened with deportation unless she helps Purvis.

Author James Ellroy has complained that he does not find Johnny Depp masculine enough to play a part like Dillinger. I was inclined to opine that Ellroy finds everyone's masculinity wanting in comparison with his own, until I saw him being interviewed for The Culture Show on the BBC, in which he was urbane and charming. That may have been because he was being interviewed by a nice lady.

This is a fine film with a good story, excellent performances, and a brilliant soundtrack for the early action sequences. It's Depp and particularly Cotillard's film but Christian Bale brings a nice understated suggestion of moral turmoil to his version of Melvin Purvis.

Usual extras, dependent upon edition: commentaries, making-of, and background featurettes; expect more with two-disc specials and blu-ray.



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