Public Enemies (2009)

Finally, Johnny Depp actually plays somebody normal.

Set during the Great Depression, it follows the final years of notorious bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) as he is pursued by Bureau of Investigation agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). It also depicts Dillinger’s relationship with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), as well as Purvis’s pursuit of Sparrow associates and fellow criminals Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham).

Michael Mann is known for directing action-packed thrillers such as Heat, and Collateral, but they were always shot in modern times, with less of a story, here he gets to change up the time, and focus on more story. Which was not a very good idea after all.

I think the one problem with this film is that it is kind of bland, mainly because it’s based on a real-story. Everybody knows what happens to these guys, and it just do anything really fun or inventive to change the pace of our minds with the film. Another problem was the use of an HD camera for this film. The shaky camera takes a lot away from the film, and the pixels, and annoying close-ups, do start to run its course by the first hour mark. I also knew it was a bad idea, cause I kept asking myself: they had hand-held cameras back in the 30’s? Nothing looked as realistic as it could have, with a real camera.

Still I got to give it to the Mann(pun intended), he is still the king of action sequences. Since these dudes are robbing banks, Depression style, of course we get a lot of shoot-outs, and to say the least their actually very fun to watch. There is this one sequence where it takes place in the forest, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Not as great as Heat’s bank robbery, but still great none the less. I also thought he did a good job of showing the known hysteria, and panic that was in the depression, as Dillinger and the boys, started to rumble up on the bank robbery’s.

Johnny Depp does a great job at playing an actual real person for once in a long time. He plays Dillinger as sort of an anti-hero, that’s funny, charming, but also very smart, and lethal with what he does, and does a great job at playing this character. I was pretty disappointed by Christian Bale‘s performance here, and I thought his attempt to make a Southern accent, was pretty dumb, and annoying. It sucks but I think he wants this to be his forgotten role. Marion Cotillard is great here as well, and her and Depp create this lovely chemistry that seems so real, that by the end, you can just feel the love between these two. Other actors that do a good job in this are Giovanni Ribisi, Billy Crudup, Stephen Lang, and a random cameo from Channing Tatum.

Consensus: There are obvious faults here within Public Enemies, but they are somehow over-shadowed, by the great action sequences, and wonderful performances from the cast, minus Bale.



  1. I liked this movie a lot, and although I knew what happened to Dillinger, et al, I didn’t know the whole story. I totally agree with you about the shaky cameras and zooming in and out and Bale’s Southern accent. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  2. I missed the boat on this one and was hugely disappointed in this. I thought it was silly, with little depth and no cat-and-mouse feel to it at all. Crudup was excellent in his small role though. Yo are right – Bale did nothing with this performance…very stale. Hurt the movie.

  3. I thought Bale was criminally underrated: take that scene where he guns down Graham. He says practically nothing at all and you are devastated.

    But then again I like this film more than most people.

  4. I’m with Peter — I had sky-high hopes for this, what with Cotillard and Depp and Bale in the cast, but it just didn’t soar the way it should have. I liked Depp well enough, but Bale … it’s like he’s started playing himself, or playing off his image, in all his films now.

  5. I’ve been wanting to rewatch this lately because I’ve heard that the Blu-ray is just gorgeous. But I agree with your opinion of the film – not as great as it could have been, but still a well-made film with good performances.

  6. I didn’t think it was bad but I was somewhat disappointed given all the big names involved. Technically, it was superbly done but it lacked an emotional connection and I was never really engaged into the story.

    • I was engaged with Dillinger and that was it. I think Mann wanted to have that deep, emotional connection, but it just didn’t work, cause of all his gun fights.

  7. I rewatched this the other day and it was slower than I had remembered it being but I still enjoyed it.
    I’m with you on the hand held cameras, they were just annoying and I didn’t think they really added much to the film.
    I think you come down a little harsh on Bale. I know he’s not exactly popular at the moment but I think he did alright with it. There’s nto much to work with as the character isn’t that fully developed and I think his stiff performance is deliberate. Depp, of course, acts him off the screen.

  8. Nice review. The forest chase was the best sequence of the film. I wish there had been more action and less plodding and trudging through the history.

    I wonder if I would have enjoyed Bale’s performance more if had been given anything to do. He barely spoke or did anything.

    For me, Marion Cotillard was the main reason to see this film. She totally convinced me how awesome Dillinger was.

  9. Nice review. Your review makes the movie sounds good whereas it bored me to death.

    I borrow the movie, watch it about 30 minutes with continous yawn every couple of minute and finally turned it off. I was so excited when the trailer came out, seeing Depp and Bale in same movie will be awesome…but the story is just not my type and even Depp and Bale can’t keep me from watching it.

  10. I liked this movie a lot more then you did. I think this is Michael Mann’s second best movie (behind Collateral). I thought it was just excellently made, and one of the best movies of 2009! Great review.

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