Flixchatter Review: Public Enemies

This flix was on my must-see list of this year, and I was determined not to be affected by the mixed reviews. I mean, more often than not, the critics are wrong anyway, so I went in convinced I was going to absolutely LOVE this flix!  Alas, the flix was just ok, it didn’t impress me as much as I had hoped. As I’ve hinted in my previous post about the trailers, I enjoyed the trailer ten times better than the flix, and that is such a pity because it could have been a great one.

The best thing about this flix is definitely Johnny Depp as the notorious bank robber John Dillinger. Michael Mann made Dillinger out to be such a hero even though he’s nothing more than a charming and crafty criminal. I don’t have a problem with that because it’s a movie, not a documentary, where creative liberty is an art form with the key purpose being to entertain. But what I do have a problem with is the fact that the flix never quite got me excited enough about the story nor the character. Even Depp with all his magnetism just couldn’t make me care about Dillinger without a strong script that fully fleshed out his character. On top of that, the pace was a so slow at times that I remember glancing at my watch wondering when it’ll be over. Not a good sign.

I learned as the movie progressed that Dillinger was not an enemy ‘of’ the public, but rather, an enemy ‘in’ public. He lived his live thinking he was invincible, having escaped from prison multiple times, and he reveled in being such an elusive delinquent who constantly one-uped the FBI. In fact, the coolest scenes were the prison escape scenes (especially in the opening of the movie) and when Dillinger stealthily sneaked into public places right under the Fed’s noses. Even as his photo was flashing on the movie theater screens and people were told to look around them as ‘the enemy might be sitting right next to them,’ he was virtually invisible. The camera would then zoomed in on his smug smirk and it was such a thrill because of the way Depp portrayed him.

Another issue I have with this flix was the love story between Dillinger and Billie Frechette, played by recent Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. Such a beautiful couple, but despite their best efforts, they lacked a certain chemistry that’d make their emotional bond believable. I didn’t cry when Billie mourned Dillinger at the end, even as the camera focused on her tear-filled eyes. And most of my friends know I’m such a sob, I cried watching Finding Nemo for shrimp sakes, and those cute animal videos on YouTube!

Nonetheless, what’s lacking in character development, it was largely made up with style. Mann’s glossy 1930s recreation was fantastic down to the last detail: the costume design, the cars, music, etc. – they all worked well to capture the mood and sensibility of the depression era. Love the costumes of the film, all those dapper men in suits, it was like a good long retro GQ commercial!

Besides Depp, there were some notable performances: Billy Crudup was excellent as the eccentric FBI director J. Edgar Hoover; and an unknown actor Jason Clarke was quite moving as Dillinger’s buddy John ‘Red’ Hamilton. Christian Bale was okay as the ambitious but morally ambiguous agent Melvin Purvis, but compared to his other terrific roles, this one was practically forgettable. I can see now why he wasn’t in the promos for this flix. I think his next role as a crack-addict boxer opposite Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter might be something more worthy to sink his teeth into. The supporting cast was full of pretty well-known actors that was unrecognizable at first: David Wendham (Dilios in 300), Stephen Dorff, Giovanni Ribisi, and jazz singer Diana Crall had a cameo as a lounge singer.

In a nutshell, this film could’ve been a classic with a stronger script. As it is now, it’s style over substance, which makes for a fairly entertaining but not memorable fare. If you’d rather see a compelling story with truly believable and affecting characters that’s also based on a true story, rent The Insider instead – my favorite Michael Mann’s flix by far!


Have you seen this film? What do you think of Public Enemies?

2 thoughts on “Flixchatter Review: Public Enemies

  1. Mike

    I know that feeling – when you wonder when the movie will be over. NOT what one should be feeling with precious spare time. I’m the type that leaves movies mid-stream when they get like that. Darn! We’re talking a Depp flick here!?!?!

  2. rtm

    I know! And Bale, too, in a Michael Mann’s film no less. I though, well, what’s not to love, you know? Depp is a fine eye candy for sure, but I need more than that to hold my attention.

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