The Great Depression has ended and J. Edgar Hoover, performed commandingly by Billy Crudup, is creating a group of G-Men headed by Christian Bale’s strong Melvin Pervis to crack down on high crime. Public Enemy number one is John Dillinger, played with subtle finesse and charm by Johnny Depp, who robs banks in his own public friendly way.
Bland Bland Bland! Why, oh why? This hurts because I was so looking forward to this film. Christian Bale and Johnny Depp are fantastic!!! Director Michael Mann is brilliant. Throw in one of the most beautiful time periods in history, with fancy clothes, fedoras and Tommy guns and a story dealing with gangsters and you can’t miss. I’m getting excited from my own description but then I remember I’m describing the movie I just saw and it’s NOT EXCITING AT ALL! Look, Public Enemies isn’t horrible it’s just not as great as it should be. Public Enemies does look great, as should a 1930’s gangster flick but Michael Mann has recently lost that little bit of heart that makes one fall in love with his films. His hand held camera style is ok at times but the pacing of the film is way too slow. A big stand out was Stephen Lang as Charles Winstead, a hard edge officer Pervis recruits from Texas who actually has experience being a lawman and using a weapon. He wasn’t given much of a back-story but as a more voice of reason without saying much he seemed to electrify a scene with energy.
The energy seemed to be sucked dry as soon as the love story would come into play. The film could have easily cut much or all of the love interest. Dillinger’s random feelings for Billie Frechette, played by a newly English speaking Marion Cotilliard, simply were neither interesting nor original in any form. I felt like it got in the way of the story of this criminal robbing banks. I was on board during some of the action, however, did not care for Dillinger much either. I’m sort of torn, because I like that for once they didn’t glorify a criminal and try to make us care for him but was that on purpose or by accident? I personally didn’t care about him, nor did I think he was that interesting other than the fact that Johnny Depp played him and he dressed well. Anyone can dress well, but not many of us can be Johnny Depp.
Dillinger didn’t come across as a good man or necessarily an evil man. He simply was a pretty average criminal. The problem with him being ordinary is that he was uninteresting and I don’t really care about seeing a movie about an uninteresting bank robber. His ability to rob banks and escape from prison wasn’t so much impressive on his part but depressing by our legal department during this time. I found the more interesting part of this story about J. Edgar Hoover and Melvin Pervis attempting to change that. Sadly they were not given as much detail or space in the film and instead we get a good-looking picture that is mildly interesting that lacks energy.