The long-awaited Public Enemies is a mixed bag brilliance and preposterousness. Fortunately, there is enough good in this film to make for a satisfying experience, even if it does not meet its lofty expectations. The good starts where you would expect: with the performance of Johnny Depp. Perhaps one of his more difficult tasks in his career, Depp portrays John Dillinger as an absolute machine whose moments of vulnerability in this film are almost zero. Maybe because his characters are usually so flamboyant and colorful that this performance seems a little bit out of Depp’s comfort zone, but that is also why it is so captivating. It shows a level of ability I had never noticed in the actor before. Even though it probably won’t earn him any awards recognition, this will definitely end up being one of his greatest career achievements.


Adapted from the non-fiction book written by Bryan Burrough, this is a movie that prides itself on being extremely close to the facts. That is also one of the major reasons that the film succeeds, because it feels so authentic. It is more of a period piece than a balls-out action gangster flick, and the authenticity is very important to keeping the movie entertaining. Possibly the most notable scene in the movie, shot on location at Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, fully demonstrates the abilities of Michael Mann. He is one of the most established crime directors working today, and the Little Bohemia action sequence ranks among his best career achievements. The blasting sound of those Tommy Guns is like music to the audience’s ears.


Even though it has a running time of about 140 minutes, one could make the argument that it is actually too short for the story. The greatest flaw of this film is perhaps the lack of character development, and a longer running time, though it may not have perfected the problem, could’ve added a little bit more to the characters, particularly Melvin Purvis. Purvis is portrayed by Christian Bale in a fine performance, yet the script is so light on the character that we don’t really know what his role is supposed to be in the film.


The thing that holds the film together, however, is not the impressiveness of Mann’s direction and the fantastic sets, but the romance between Dillinger and Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard). The script is incredibly lacking in terms of developing the romance, but the performances are so good that we care about them anyway. You could say one of the toughest things for an actor to do is to make life out of a dull script, but somehow Depp and Cotillard both pull it off.


With all of the good stuff that I have mentioned, from the lead performances to the great action sequences, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of frustration as I walked out of the theater. I didn’t really feel disappointed per say, but I felt frustrated at the fact that a film could have so many moments of true power accompanied by moments of utter silliness. As I watched the ending sequence, watching the clips of Manhattan Melodrama and listening to the brilliant score by Elliot Goldenthal, I was utterly fascinated and glued to the screen. I guess I just wish that the entire film gave me that feeling.


When I first heard that this project was in-development, I couldn’t wait. I felt the same anticipation that I felt when I was awaiting the release of The Dark Knight. You got Michael Mann at the helm, one of the best people in Hollywood to direct a crime drama, and then you have a cast that includes some of the best actors working today. I am still trying to figure out why this film didn’t succeed to the point it could have. It reminds me why The Dark Knight was such an astounding achievement. It is so hard for these big-budget, big-name films to live up to every expectation, and to be honest, Public Enemies did not even come close to its potential. I guess what I am trying to say is this: I hope you go into the theater expecting a good, but not great film.

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