Cast: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard
Director: Michael Mann
Running time: 143 minutes
Genre: True-life crime/gangster drama
No-one could catch him and no jail could hold him. His name was Johnny Dillinger, notorious bank robber and America’s Most Wanted during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Described as Public Enemy Number One, Dillinger and sidekick gangsters Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd caused the Feds to declare America’s first national “War on Crime”.
This film, based on the non-fiction book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-1934 by Bryan Burrough, is a stylish, old-fashioned look at the last year of Dillinger’s life. The film starts where Dillinger (Johnny Depp) daringly breaks fellow gangsters out of a prison in Lima and sets off to Chicago for his next escapade. It’s not long before FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and a few Texas Rangers are out for Dillinger’s blood.
Between more bank robberies and another swaggering jail break out, Dillinger meets the love of his life Billie Frenchette, played by striking French actress Marion Cotillard. He bluntly tells her that he robs banks for a living and wants her to accompany him on his next adventure – her only reservation is that she does not know him well enough. He replies, “I like baseball, movies, good clothes, whiskey, fast cars … and you. What else do you need to know?”
Witty dialogue such as this, brilliant acting and authentic 30s-era gangster clothing, cars and guns give the film a sophisticated appearance. Impressive shootouts and nerve-wrecking moments (such as stealing the sheriff’s car) also add to the film’s panache.
Public Enemies isn’t without flaws though. Many of the scenes were shot with a hand-held camera, causing some of the film’s magnificent action moments to lose some pizzazz.
Moreover, at a length of nearly two and a half hours, the crucial ending loses a bit of its impact. The ending is also devoid of any typical Hollywood glitz and glamour, leaving one to exit the cinema without that “What a wonderful world” Walt Disney feeling of closure. But with such an action-packed and über-elegant gangster film starring Johnny Depp, who needs closure?