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Public Enemies – Rating: B-

Submitted by on July 14, 2009 – 6:59 PMOne Comment
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The affray between cops and robbers is a good vs. evil tale best fit for entertainment value. Director Michael Mann (Miami Vice, Ali) revisits an era where crime was at its worst and gangsters ruled the word—the Great Depression. Taking A-lister Johnny Deep and transforming him from his patented Captain Jack Sparrow character into egregious bank robber, John Dilliger, the anticipation is premeditated. And Depp delivers a knockout performance which makes Public Enemies a must see.

The Depression brought tragedy upon American society and introduced one of the most suave gangsters in history—John Dillinger (Depp). Public Enemy No. 1, Dillinger became idolized by the American public and feared by the public-enemies-movie-posterlocal authorities, cleverly using his ruggedly charming wits to burglarize banks and party at social clubs. Crossing paths with his other mob peers, Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum, Fighting), Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham), Dillinger’s celebrity status made him the FBI’s most wanted criminal.

Chief J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) and handpicked agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) are hot on Dillinger’s coattails. As the manhunt goes public, Purvis becomes disgusted by the department’s stratagem, while struggling to cope with his trade and his obsession to capture the diligent bank robber. Challenged by Texas Ranger Charles Winstead (Stephen Lang) and his own peer, Purvis determination puts him in hot pursuit of Dillinger.

In between heists, shootouts and police chases, Dillinger is a Clyde with no particular need of a Bonnie, but soon discovers a coat-check femme named Billie (Marion Cotillard), a woman charmed by Dillinger’s inveigling motives and consummate loyalty. Living in the fast lane catches up with the gangster, as the FBI imprisons the fugitive twice for his crimes. But after escaping jail twice, Dillinger is back on the streets creating havoc and living out his criminal legacy.

Mann works from a stereotypical checklist of great gangster films and creates intense shootout scenes, which make Depp a charismatic antagonist. Every shootout is a hailstorm of Tommy Gun bullets flying all over the place, which is reminiscent of popular gun fights from films like the original Public Enemy and Little Caesar. The costumes are extravagant, and the vintage backgrounds and soundtrack encapsulate the 1930’s to a tee.

Depp’s portrayal of the infamous Dillinger is clearly underwritten, but great actors tweak roles to the audience’s liking, and that’s exactly what he does. It’s just a shame the rest of the ensemble are underused in their roles. Cotillard is mere eye candy, while the chemistry between Crudup and Bale only appeases audiences to continue rooting for the bad guy. Their performances only inspire you to loath their characters.

PabstBlueRibbonPublic Enemies is a personal look at an admired gangster who played by his rules and stood loyal to his peers, even though he despised their reckless desires. It is a typical Mann film, with an excessive running time and inconsistent screenplay. Depp’s convincing performance saves the film from becoming a disaster—period.

Beer Pairing: The recommendation here is Pabst Blue Ribbon—An old school beer to accommodate an old school era.