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Film Review: Public Enemies

Written by: FFT Webmaster | July 1st, 2009

Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” is the most poignant and captivating portrayal of gangster life in 1930’s America ever produced and the most engaging gangster movie since “Goodfellas” and “Bonnie and Clyde”.


It is the third Hollywood style feature film made about the juvenile delinquent and bank robber John Dillinger( Johnny Depp) and the first that possesses the verisimilitude of the period. It is also simultaneously a portrait of Special FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), whose career defining obsession was to kill or capture Dillinger, a gangster identified by his boss J Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) as “Public Enemy #1”.

Dillinger as played by Depp is  a smart, charming and flawed character who was a Gentlemen thug who wanted “Everything right now”.   Mann’s screenplay, adapted from Byran Burrough’s 2004 book of the same title ties together many of the big names from “The Golden Age of Bank Robbery” with particularly memorable turns from “Pretty Boy Floyd”, and a gun crazed “Baby Face Nelson” (Stephen Graham). Adding depth to Dillinger’s character was his hat-check girlfriend, Billie Frenchette, played by Marion Cotillard with a passion and recklessness that is both appealing and tragic. What is exciting is watching the violence and brutality of the bank robberies during those wild 14 months, with much care paid to the sound of the gunshots exploding with white light. 

Cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s HD creates incredible blacks that look razor sharp and will make a wondrous Blu-Ray Disc.  Elliot Goldenthal’s evocative score combines with period music to create a wonderful soundtrack.


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