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Matt's Public Enemies Review

Updated on November 15, 2009

As Michael Mann is the director behind Heat – one of the most ingenious action movies of all time – I had very high expectations for Public Enemies going in.  I am pleased to say that most of my expectations were met, and while Public Enemies is not a masterpiece even close to the level of Heat, it is a wonderful throwback to the style of action films of the 1990s.  This is one of the reasons why reactions by audiences have been mixed.  Unlike movies such as Transformers, Public Enemies has a plot and the characters are very well developed.  It is less of an action movie than it is a performance piece.


-          The pacing and characterization in this film runs contradictory to the by and large mindlessness of the action genre of the past 10 years.  Sadly, this sort of film is now an endangered species in Hollywood.  This is a steadily paced, well-acted, well-written and sophisticated action film – fans of non-stop action films such as the Bourne series or anything by Michael Bay, should revise their expectations.

-          A brief note about the rating, my hat goes off to the filmmakers for having the guts to make this film rated R.  I understand all the rationale for keeping movie ratings PG-13 or below.  Sadly I’ve seen several action films that have felt watered down – Live Free or Die Hard anyone?  Crime and criminals are what Michael Mann does best, and Public Enemies is a movie about a violent group of criminals.  Michael Mann rightly pulls no punches in this film.

-          Although I thoroughly enjoyed this film, I found the ending rather disappointing.  Given how turbulent the movie is up to that point, I expected something a little more explosive at the end and was disappointed.


-          Johnny Depp hits it out of the park in this film.  He shows a lot of range and emotional depth in this performance – which is another trademark of Michael Mann.  I’ve come to expect nothing less than brilliance from Depp over the years, no surprise here.

-          Christian Bale, I’m afraid, was a weak link in the film.  I understood that his character was supposed to be the Sam Gerard of the piece, but he gives a very cold and stiff performance in this film.  Having seen Bale’s performances in Batman Begins and The Prestige, I happen to know he is a very capable actor.  He has got to stop playing stern-faced heroes and start taking some different types of roles.

-          Marion Cotillard was a delight to watch.  She’s beautiful, she’s talented and she brings a wonderful vulnerability to her role as John Dillinger’s girlfriend and fatal weakness.  This is the first movie I’ve seen with her, and I couldn’t have been more impressed.

Music, Cinematography, and Special Effects

-          The music brings energy to this film that wouldn’t have been there otherwise, and as this is a period drama, the sound is very distinctive.

-          This was a beautifully shot film, more interesting than the landscapes though was the costume design, the cars and the guns.  This would not have been nearly as fun to watch if it had taken place in the present day.

The Bottom Line

This is a solid film on almost every level, and is just the type of film that the academy might take notice of.  Johnny Depp is well overdue to win an Oscar, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked up a nomination for this.  I don't for a second expect this film to appeal to everyone, but, in spite of its flaws, I liked it.  See it.  7/10.


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