I fought the law, and the law won
John Dillinger, great legendary folk hero of the 1930's or just some two bit crook? Starring Johnny Depp (John Dillinger), Christian Bale (Melvin Purvis), Marion Cotillard (Billie Frechette), and Channing Tatum (Pretty Boy Floyd). Michael Mann directs a film about the legendary gangster, during the 1930's, John Dillinger, as it shows the Feds going to extreme lengths to try to catch the man. Resorting to such nefarious tactics as threats and police brutality, to achieve their objective of capturing the legendary crook. Although Michael Mann has done a lot of great films in the past like "Miami Vice", "Ali", and "Collateral", this fails to measure up to it's hype. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to like this movie. When I first heard that Christian Bale and Johnny Depp would be acting as rivals in the film, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, Bale sees very little screen time in the movie, as it seems Mann never fleshes out his character. Which is a huge disappointment to me, to say the least. The character development never even fleshes out who John Dillinger is. As hardly anything is explained about him, like his motivation to rob banks, or how he became involved in organized crime. Thus, leaving the audience with very little idea of what kind of person John is. Normally, in Mann's other films this works due to strong character development, like "Ali" and "Collateral", there's usually is a character that very little is explained about to create drama and tension within the movie itself. Yet despite very little information about the character, the character development is always pretty solid enough to allow the viewer to fully understand just who this person is. In the case of "Ali", sure the viewer is given no information as to why Ali changes his religion and his name, but it does show you why he thinks the way he does. The movie has Ali portrayed as a man has made a lot of mistakes in the past, but he's portrayed as a man that stands by his convictions and for what he believes in. Unfortunately, that is not the case with "Public Enemies", as the character development around John Dillinger never gets fully fleshed out enough, to allow the audience to relate to his character on some level. The costume designs and cinematography were top notch though. Plus, Johnny Depp seems to add a lot of charisma to this movie, that keeps the film entertaining despite a mediocre script. "Public Enemies" is a fairly decent crime drama, but it falls short from what it could have been.
As I've said before, when I first heard Bale and Depp would be rivals in this movie, I couldn't help but feel excited. Thinking about other movies, where Hollywood has put together great actors to star as rivals in such films like "A Few Good Men" and "The Fugitive." Thinking about the many memorable scenes those epic films created, during their run, gave rise to my hopes to expect no less in "Public Enemies." Sadly, that was not the case. As it seems Bale's character is merely an after thought in the movie. In fact, he's only in the film for about twenty minutes. I know some actors can maintain a demanding presence despite limited screen time. However, Bale's strength as an actor usually come when he gets a fair amount of screen time and dialogue, to allow his acting ability shine, so I was a bit disappointed that Mann didn't explore that possibility as there were opportunities to give Bale more screen time. Like in one scene, where the Feds are interrogating Billie, John's girl friend, the cops start to use brutal tactics to get her to talk. When she refuses to tell them where John was, the Feds start to beat her up a bit. Just as she's getting beaten up, Melvin Purvis stops the brutality and carries Billie to safety. This could have been used to explore the corruption within the government system itself, while fleshing out Bale's character a bit more. Thus, allowing Bale's acting ability to shine. Sadly, since this opportunity was never explored, it seemed like a wasted moment that Mann could have elaborated on.
The film never fleshed out who John Dillinger was. Instead, it seemed like Mann's focus for the movie was primarily on the legend of John Dillinger, rather than the actual man himself. This could have worked had Mann explored bits and pieces of John's past, or at least explore the concept of police corruption and how the gangsters were portrayed as heroes, in the eyes of the public a bit more. However, these themes were only lightly touched on, as it creates a rather weak storyline for the viewer to follow.
As far as acting is concerned, I felt Johnny Depp gave a strong performance, in spite of a mediocre script. Using his usual wit and charm, that he uses in all his films to carry the movie. Although it would have been great to see a few memorable scenes with him and Bale, but it just never happens.
The costume designs were very authentic and the cinematography was great. Creating an almost authentic old movie gangster film.
"Public Enemies" may not be the best crime drama out there, but it's fairly decent for what it is. Featuring a solid performance out of Johnny Depp, and the cinematography was just excellent. Unfortunately, the character development and storyline fall short of what it could have been.