Vail movie review: ‘Public Enemies’ more like bar friends …
Despite his title of Public Enemy No. 1, popularity and public embrace appear to follow John Dillinger. And according to director /producer/writer Michael Mann (“Heat,” “Last of the Mohicans”), the famed bank robber had an uncanny way of making himself virtually invisible, simply by wearing a pair of shades.
Believable … not really. Beautifully rendered, yes. If you want an escape to 1930s gang life, “Public Enemies,” in terms of quality setting and acting, ranks right up there with “The Godfather” series and other greats. There is an ample supply of gunfire (using those sweet Dick Tracy-style machine guns), screeching tire getaways in vintage Fords, silky smooth romance (wooing is so easy for gangsters) and action-packed jailbreaks.
Johnny Depp is a natural, especially when all his Dillinger friends call him Johnny. Unfortunately, in all the shooting and more than one scene of watching gangsters watch a movie in a theater, we don’t really get to know Dillinger or any of the other Public Enemies (Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd) too well.
The film kicks off with a jailbreak: fast-paced, exciting and constituting one of the film’s many bloodbaths. Then we move right into bank robbery, where we truly get to admire Dillinger’s grace and agility when it comes to taking cash and temporary hostages.
Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover is testing out a brand new branch of law enforcement, the FBI, and agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is hell-bent – in his pointed and reserved manner – on taking down Dillinger, only he doesn’t have much luck.
As Dillinger is out on the town one night, he spots Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), and wastes no time at all taking her on his arm and telling her exactly who he is and what he’s all about. She balks for a few hours, then melts into his irresistible charm and allure (as girls do).
It’s hard to tell how much time passes as Frechette and Dillinger’s relationship solidifies (it feels like about five minutes), when Dillinger is once again captured and taken into custody. He has one meaningful and telling conversation with Purvis between the metal bars of his cell before effortlessly making a fresh round of jail-breaking buddies.
At one point, when Chicago is on an all-out manhunt for Dillinger and Frechette finds herself in a pickle, Dillinger strolls down the street amid about two dozen officers frantically scrutinizing every face on the block for their man … and gets away.
“Public Enemies” is fast and kind of fun, there’s a lot to enjoy about it … just not much to believe or remember.
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