Set in the Great Depression of 1930s America, Public Enemies tells the real life story of legendary bank robber, and FBI coined public enemy, John Dillinger (Depp). Robbing banks at will, and barely planning beyond the end of the week, Dillinger drew sympathy from the American public for his thirst for life and good treatment of any hostage momentarily taken on robberies. In the great crime wave in the 1930s, however, Dillinger became the focus of the FBI’s efforts. Led by agent Melvin Purvis (Bale), Dillinger was effectively public enemy number one as the FBI attempted to stop the lawlessness in Midwest America, and it became his life’s mission to at last apprehend the criminal.
Set in many of the real locations that Dillinger’s remarkable life was thrown back and forth, the high production values as you’d expect from Michael Mann and his supreme attention to detail really pay off. Public Enemies really immerses you in the life in the 1930s and Dillinger’s fearless nature.
As you’d expect from Oscar-winning Marion Cotillard, as love interest Billie Frechette and of course the ever reliable duo of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, the leading cast, and even the rest of Dillinger’s gang, are portrayed with great confidence and maturity, and it’s especially nice to at least see Christian Bale in a role without his Batman voice.
Alongside some stunning cinematography and a fitting soundtrack, with Public Enemies, Michael Mann should have a masterpiece on his hands, but somehow, he doesn’t. Though the film is very accomplished, it lacks the wow factor and real depth of purpose to set it apart.
Public Enemies lacks a focus and drive, despite Mann’s passion for the story. The characters emerge on screen near fully formed and undergo minimal development throughout the film as you’re meant to know every detail about the characters before you enter the cinema to really get the most out of it.
Perhaps the film should have cut with a quicker pacing, and it does deserve credit for creating a lovable criminal in Dillinger; Public Enemies is an enjoyable experience but it feels like it could have been a whole lot more and another gangster classic.