Combustible Celluloid
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With: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff, Jason Clarke, David Wenham, Billy Crudup, Stephen Graham, Channing Tatum, Rory Cochrane, Emilie de Ravin, Shawn Hatosy, Leelee Sobieski
Written by: Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, Ann Biderman, based on a book by Bryan Burrough
Directed by: Michael Mann
MPAA Rating: R for gangster violence and some language
Running Time: 140
Date: 06/18/2009

Public Enemies (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gang Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What Michael Mann has achieved with the new Public Enemies is to capture some of the raw energy and allure of the old gangster B-films. It clocks in as a longer, but equally fast-moving and adrenaline-pumping example. Somehow Mann only manages to use the extra time for flash and spectacle, and hardly any for depth or detail, but that only helps to speed things along.

One of the movie's main themes is the fact that Dillinger lives for the moment, unwilling or unable to consider the future, and with little use for the past. That's Mann's credo as well, and it's what keeps the lengthy Public Enemies in shape.

Johnny Depp stars as John Dillinger, and unlike the thuggish Lawrence Tierney in the 1945 version or the snaky Warren Oates in the 1973 version, this one is very concerned with his public image. He's handsome and brave and looks great during his bank robberies, wearing his crisp hat, long coat and double handguns like fashion statements. He puts on a great show of stealing only the "bank's money" rather than the small deposits of the general public.

But it can't last. The newly-formed Federal Bureau of Investigation, and its twisted director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) have opened a new anti-Dillinger branch, led by Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). We first meet Purvis as he guns down Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) in the back using a long-range rifle; the film never gives him much sympathy and Bale's chilly screen persona is perfect for a self-righteous villain like this.

Unfortunately, the two main rivals, Purvis and Dillinger, don't really connect much onscreen, except for one brief, well-placed discussion through prison bars (it's not as effective as the coffee date between the hero and villain of Mann's Heat). Dillinger fares better with coat check girl Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), though poor Cotillard spends much of the movie occupying the typical "girlfriend" role, at least until the final quarter when she is allowed a few venomous line readings.

Stephen Graham also stars as a volatile, sadistic Baby Face Nelson, with whom Dillinger reluctantly joins forces when things get tough.

[Note: please also see my longer review at]

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