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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
Cast
Christian Bale
Johnny Depp
Channing Tatum

Billy Crudup
Giovanni Ribisi.
Directors
Michael Mann.
Screenwriters
Ronan Bennett
Michael Mann
Ann Biderman.
Running Time
130 minutes

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Public Enemies
The life, loves and bank robberies of John Dillinger


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Plot
Chicago, 1933: as John Dillinger’s (Depp) crime spree makes front-page news, the FBI sends its top man, Melvin Purvis (Bale), to stop the brilliant bank robber. Dillinger, meanwhile, is waylaid by the adorable Billie Frechette (Cotillard)...


Review
Public Enemies
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Great Scott, what’s this? We’re slap-bang in the middle of the summer season — humankind battling for survival against robots the size of fairground rides, buildings crashing around us like piecrust, rom-coms, bromances, Will Ferrell and Spock — and all of a sudden somebody is treating us like an adult. Within seconds of Michael Mann’s latest crime drama, there comes the chilling realisation that, goddamn it, we have got to use our brain. Who ordered this? We were all relaxed, gormlessly sucking up the latest maelstrom of CG, when something quite brilliant turns up. Rich and complicated lives, moral grey areas and man-sized subject-matter, all located in a down-to-the-plug-sockets recreation of 1933? Surely there’s been a rupture in the time-space continuum?

Indeed, after barely a caption, we’re tossed headlong into a prison break. Although contrary to standard operating procedure, our hero — at least, our antihero — appears to be breaking into prison. Then, Mann, who both directs and rewrote novelist Ronan Bennett’s screenplay based upon Bryan Burrough’s vibrant history, is having no truck with the weary tropes of gangster movies, biopics, period pieces or, for that matter, the basic principles of what we know as films...

Whatever James Cameron’s Avatar may resemble in cinema’s ‘big shake-up’ later this year, this less self-aggrandising film, shot entirely on an ultra-high resolution digital format, marks a new cinematic language. The genre may seem familiar, that rat-a-tat-tat of Tommy guns, molls and dapper hoods, but never with this level of immersion. If Mann’s mission was simply to portray the early ’30s with pin-sharp realism, he has triumphed. This is not a film about the ’30s — it is a film in the ’30s.

Those familiar with a Mann’s man — embattled souls with good skills — will spot the guile and moral slipperiness in John Dillinger. Labelled Public Enemy No. 1 by conniving FBI supremo J. Edgar Hoover, we catch up with him cutting loose after nine years in jail. Dillinger left prison less corrected than fully educated in the criminal sciences, and confident enough to walk straight back into Indiana State Pen and pluck out a hatful of assistant crooks.

His gang, with its shifting headcount of hoodlums (the likes of Baby Face Nelson and Pete Pierpont had an irritating habit
of not being as good as him), took down scores across Chicago and the Midwest with impunity. It was a slick operation, in and out in minutes. Mann, too, has the sense not to dwell on the old hat of movie heists, gliding in and out of these marbled banks to get on with the business of Dillinger’s rise to fame. This is not a film about bank robbing, but a bank robber. And given most of the population were on the verge of starvation, the public saw a dashing hero sticking it to the man, not an enemy.

Himself a movie-lover, Dillinger was greatly amused at how Hollywood would riff on his moves in B-movie gangster flicks playing to millions. Onscreen he gleamed up as Clark Gable, and there is a sly resonance to Johnny Depp slipping into the role — a star part-Gable and part-Dillinger. Already au fait with the legend, Depp has embraced his director’s mission to strip away the wise-guy melodrama and Cagney sneer of movie mythology to see what lies beneath. More contained a vessel than those rock stars Sparrow and Todd, Depp’s Dillinger is equal parts flamboyant devil and Zen-like McCauley professionalism. He treated the press like playthings, nonchalantly posing for snappers, but would take on an icy control as he invaded banks; history has it that he only killed one man.

At the centre of him, and the nut that Depp and Mann are out to crack, lies an enigma — just what motivated the rogue? Money, yes; fame, certainly — but he was manically living for the moment. There was no getaway plan, no 30 second back-out if he felt the heat around the corner. To some degree, he thought himself untouchable.

In one of many fantastical moments based on real events, Dillinger saunters into a Chicago police department, the goons too busy listening to the ball game to pay him any heed, to become rapt in the maps of his crimes, details of his partners, and his own mugshot pinned to the wall. On his way out, he stops to check the score. As with many Depp performances, there is this kind of magical undercurrent, an intoxicating compound of angel and demon.

Naturally, Hoover charged his best man with the task of “getting Dillinger”. Melvin Purvis had just put a rifle bullet through the midriff of a Pretty Boy Floyd fleeing through an apple orchard, and the media were lapping up this G-man’s own good looks. Born into wealth, and happy to show it, Purvis had the aura of a gentleman killer. Bale, with a seamlessly genteel purr, paints him as another consumed by the rigours of his task. A master cop hot on the elusive trail of a master thief... Ring any sirens?

Mann may squirm, but the Heat-in-the-Depression tag is inevitable. The comparisons are numerous: cascading storylines, languid cityscapes, architectural framing and that rigorous unpicking of male psychology (cops and robbers are all deep-down misunderstood). Oh, and midway through, while Dillinger and his gang recuperate in a wooded lodge after a job-gone-sour, Purvis catches up with his foe. Fourteen minutes later — after a symphony of submachine gunfire, that ‘Chicago piano’ — you can breathe again. Like Heat’s LA street battle, it is another extraordinary mix of cinematic verve and physical veracity — every muzzle flash and recoil the product of months of research and testing.

Yet, more than just their eras, the two films feel like different worlds. Such is the docu-clarity of this digital skin, you have to readjust your thinking. This isn’t the glamour of the movies, warmly draped in celluloid, but rather an instantaneous, ‘stunning’ reality: every facial pore, every herringbone stitch, every silvery wisp from a smoking gun comes crystal-clear. Strangely, it makes the film both period and contemporary: history through a sci-fi lens.

And more than just the fiery tale of Dillinger’s final weeks — which would happily serve most filmmakers — Mann takes up the canvas of America itself. Here are the forces that shaped a nation: phones; telegrams; the automobile revolution; the Mafia ditching extortion to make piles of dough from gambling scams; and the newspapers and moviehouses spreading headlines across the country in hours. In a small, memorable role, Billy Crudup as the brilliant Hoover, disdained by his antiquated elders, practices the malign magic of spin doctoring. The head of Dillinger would make his burgeoning FBI, buzzing with anonymous G-men, unstoppable.

Dillinger, if anything, was the product of a different era. He was the last of the great outlaws, a trail of exalted but dubious men leading back to Billy The Kid and Jesse James. Mann’s movie lies at a cusp between great American genres: the dusty borderland between the Western and gangster movie.

It also finds time to be a love story. Billie Frechette, a coat-check girl with eyes like light bulbs, is swept up by Dillinger’s electric charm. “I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars... and you,” he oozes, and she melts. As Billie, the wonderful Marion Cotillard is the heartbeat of the movie — she can see the inevitable doom of Dillinger’s run, yet still tries to swerve the car.

True, Mann is asking a lot of you: myriad characters come and go in the hurly-burly of the plot and we are required to keep up. So hard-and-fast-and-vivid comes the digital detail


Verdict
Intelligent and challenging: Mann’s crime epic could take two viewings to fully absorb, but it’s worth every devoted minute.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Public Enemies
Empire Star Rating

Brilliant Thriller

Being perhaps a little too long, which ruins the pace a slight, might be the films only letdown. Otherwise this is a brilliant, sharp and impressive ganster thriller with competent and charismatic leads. Despite the realism, the climax and ending has a poetic and tragic quality that tops the film completely - 4 stars from me ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by trainedasninja at 20:07, 29 August 2011 | Report This Post


Mann's best!

I take back what I said earlier by saying that this is certainly better than 'Collaterel' and, personally, I think that this betters 'Heat'. Empire got it spot-on with the second viewing theory and this was one of my favourite films of last year because the direction's superb, the historical facts pin-point accurate, it looks gorgeous (as you would expect from the man behind the sheen of L.A. Confidential) and the performances astounding (Depp, Cotillard and Bale are perfect, Stephen Graham is c... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by !xHoTRoDx! at 21:12, 03 May 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Review Review

Finally watched this after it went down in price on DVD. It's an okay film. I felt Bale was very good but actually disliked Depp in this, a hard pill to swallow as i think he's an awesome actor. He was never right for Dillinger IMO. The film kind of goes nowhere. The first ten mins were good, then an hour of nothing much, then a good ten mins, then nothing much then a good last ten mins. Apparantly Depp didn't enjoy filming much due to Mann's take after take approach to it and i think it shows.... More

Posted by TheSpleen at 18:41, 03 May 2010 | Report This Post


Review Review

Reads like a Dillinger biography, not a film review. No need to label it a five star masterpiece compared to the rest of last summer's drivel. Judge a film on its own merit. Just another in a long line of predictable films with cut and paste characters, situations and dialogues, and not enough visual style to make it any more than it is: derivative and boring. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by petecriss8000 at 21:36, 21 April 2010 | Report This Post


Terrific

Saw this on the same plane-ride that I saw 'The Hurt Locker', making it the best plane-ride of my life in addition to the smooth landing, and was surprisingly entertained (at that point the only Mann films I had seen were Miami Vice and Heat, and because of the former I assumed that the latter was simply a spark in the pan). Doesn't quite beat Heat or Collateral, but is still unmissable filmmaking that proves that Mann, along with the likes of Ridley Scott and James Cameron, is a master visua... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by !xHoTRoDx! at 15:37, 10 April 2010 | Report This Post


Old fashioned epic

As you have probably noticed, I am prone to praise films for being old fashioned and/or a throwback to older and slightly better films. Defiance some time ago earned my four stars as I compared it to the storytelling of Gladiator, and while Public Enemies didn't remind me of anything as I'm far too young, I was still forced to appreciate the efforts of Michael Mann. The director manages to create a certain authenticity for the film which will immediately win you over. This, along with the work ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 09:40, 09 April 2010 | Report This Post


Why does empire get excited over these type of films ?

I thought this film was gonna be something special, But i was wrong ! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by spartan24 at 11:25, 14 March 2010 | Report This Post


Underrated

Thought it was brilliant. The Cinematography had this strange perfection to it. And Depp was superb, so was Bale and Cotillard Michael Mann is a master of the medium people! And I can't wait to give this another watch :) Especailly because of alot of the shoot-outs. Only HD could make it look this good! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by monkeyhumour at 23:42, 14 January 2010 | Report This Post


RE: empire you are the public enemies for giving shit reviews

L: CORLEONE waltham1979, your efforts on here remind me of my ting defence of Terminator Salvation.hem no mercy, brother ote]   You defend Terminator Salvation? Do you want to burn in hell or something? Never heard of such nonsense.   As for Public Enemies - it pains me to say this, but the film lacked punch. Emotional punch. On the other hand, the performances were excellent, the visuals and shoot-outs - stunning, and the actress who played Billy was sensational. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bozo at 18:00, 27 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Good not Great

I completely agree with the poster above me. It was a good film but not great. The acting was great though, especially Bale. It just left me feeling a little cold, much in the same way Heat did. ... More

Posted by Bickle at 14:03, 06 August 2009 | Report This Post


Good not Great

Better than most the other crap that has been released this year.   Not sure if that sytle of filming suits the film.   I liked it alot but it left me feeling empty.   Both main actors were solid.   Just left me wanting more. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Death_Row_Marv at 13:01, 06 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

So, I saw this last night, finally got around to it, the weather's been too nice evenings to sit in a dark theatre, but last night was perfect for it. I had very high expectations concerning this film, Mann at the helm, two of my favorite actors in the leads. And I'm pleased to say that I was not disappointed, in fact Public Enemies is one the best films I've seen in a long, long while, not so much on account of the story, it's not a standard biography/swelled drama, it's a slice of the life of... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Kazuya at 09:51, 06 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Ignore the "spies"...

Just saw this, my first Mann film. Depp was excellent. The shootout in the woods in the middle of the film was amazing, and the type of story and setting draw you in. Christian Bale still can't act, and he looks like an alien. It was a bit too long, and it seemed as though some parts were rushed while others were overemphasised. 4/5, but one extra mark down for the digital video. ... More

Posted by Squidward Hark Bugle at 16:57, 03 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

I was sooo happy to find this review after I saw the movie because I honestly felt like I was missing something. ... More

Posted by Jones S at 07:50, 23 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

Saw this last night and boy was I disappointed.   All the ingredients seemed right with Michael Mann again tackling the crime genre with a stellar lead trio and a very good supporting cast but nothing really gelled for me.   I think the story of Dillinger was interesting but I never got a feel for who he was, I actually felt the same way about Manns Ali - in both cases the films felt like they were recounting events without ever really exploring these interestin... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Marwood at 12:11, 22 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

L: hmtb I looked up the F23 camera, and it says it "captures in full 1920 x 1080 progressive." For some reason, I thought traditional film had a higher resolution and was downscaled for dvd and even blu ray transfers - is this right? Does this mean that this hd digital is lower in resolution than film, and if so why is it deemed a step up (other than the ease with which directors can edit their material and cost)? he difference isn't necessarily in resolution, but in percepti... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 18:23, 21 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: empire you are the public enemies for giving shit reviews

L: CORLEONE waltham1979, your efforts on here remind me of my unrelenting defence of Terminator Salvation. Show them no mercy, brother ote]   cheers man...I feel I should point out at this point that I do not work for Mann's marketing department, nor am I associated with the film in any official capacity ... More

Posted by waltham1979 at 14:42, 20 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: empire you are the public enemies for giving shit reviews

waltham1979, your efforts on here remind me of my unrelenting defence of Terminator Salvation. Show them no mercy, brother ... More

Posted by CORLEONE at 14:28, 20 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: empire you are the public enemies for giving shit reviews

L: Stephbstevens stick this in with your review of indy 4, superman returns, attack of d clones,, punchum of solace sp; ... More

Posted by CORLEONE at 14:27, 20 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

I looked up the F23 camera, and it says it "captures in full 1920 x 1080 progressive." For some reason, I thought traditional film had a higher resolution and was downscaled for dvd and even blu ray transfers - is this right? Does this mean that this hd digital is lower in resolution than film, and if so why is it deemed a step up (other than the ease with which directors can edit their material and cost)? ... More

Posted by hmtb at 11:32, 19 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

Not as bad as I thought it might be but there was still a nagging air of pointlessness to it all. Not nearly enough character insight to warrant a 2 hour plus movie, and the plot is little more than a series of Dillinger just barely escaping sequences. Depp was functional, which is still better than most actors, but I thought Bale did well with such a thankless part. It was ALWAYS going to be compared to Heat, and unless it was far better than this it was never going to a favourable comparison.... More

Posted by hatebox at 11:32, 19 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

I had the exact same problem with the sound that Chris Druce did. I kept wanting to rewind the movie in my mind just to know what was being said. It was terrible, the dialogue completely lost, if it was on DVD I would have put the subtitles on. Other than that I found the film highly average. I really do not see how this was a 5 star film. It wasn't compelling, I didn't care who won or lost, it just wasn't an enjoyable experience. 2/5 from me. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bigbadbeasty at 08:44, 19 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

I didn't like this film at all. I was really looking forward to it as I do like michael mann's films, like heat, collateral, ali, the insider (miami vice I wasn't so keen on). There were 2 reasons I was disappointed. Firstly, I wasn't drawn in by the characters, and so I didn't care what happened to them in the shoot outs. I didn't feel there was enough suspense in the film, and saw the gun fights as setpieces rather than integral to the story (I'm sure they were, but I FELT like I didn't ... More

Posted by hmtb at 00:43, 19 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

Good not great.  Not 5 star.  Left me feeling empty in a way that Manns films never have done before.   BEtter than pretty much any of this years summers blockbusters and I hope it does do well.  Not his best by a long shot. But so much better than anything Bay or McG could ever come up with. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Death_Row_Marv at 15:40, 16 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Public Enemies

Saw it last night (at a packed screening full of Potter rejects) and I thought it was quite good. Nothing particluarly special about it though I was entertained. No particular stand out performances, though I thought it was well shot and the tommy gun battles were great. But the main gripe is the historical inaccuracy and the glorification of Dillinger. The timeline of deaths in the movie is almost opposite to reality. Decent, but I'd rather watch Heat or any of Cagney's efforts. 3/5 ... More

Posted by CORLEONE at 09:35, 16 July 2009 | Report This Post


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