The Heap Reviews “Public Enemies”

If there’s one thing a majority of the audience will walk away with after seeing Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, it’s that girls love bad, bad boys. They’ll pretend to be weary of taking a liking to a notable criminal. They’ll play hard to get. But before you know it, they’ll be enamored. The cars, the guns, the act of robbery itself becomes nothing but an after thought. This very same criminal becomes a hero in someone’s heart.

It is this type of relationship that Mann successfully develops between infamous Great Depression Era bank robber John Dillinger and the audience through out the course of the film. Dillinger’s public status is alluded too on numerous occasions. At one part of the film, one of Dillinger’s henchmen suggest that the crew could make a little bit more by kidnapping and getting ransom payments. Dillinger’s response is of concern for what his “public” would feel about it. Similarly, when he is apprehended and is going through town n the police car, mobs of people try to catch a glimpse of this “celebrity.” It’s almost like a hero’s parade instead of what should have been a criminal’s condemnation by society.

The primary goal of Public Enemies is to humanize the crime world figure that was John Dillinger. The film achieves this by blurring the line between the good and bad guys. Ultimately, it results in an inversion of roles. You feel yourself rooting for Dillinger and hoping Melvin Purvis and the FBI fails. You grow to love Dillinger’s charm, witticism, and commitment to his relationships. You grow to hate those hoping to capture him. You cringe when he’s chased, when he’s shot. You melt when it’s revealed to Billie that his last words were of the song to their first dance.

The roles are inverted. Justice becomes inhumane, ruthless, numb and downright animalistic. Dillinger is warm, dedicated, and tender-hearted. He resembles a modern day “Robin Hood-like” figure.


The acting is excellent. Johnny Depp demonstrates his versatility again. His natural charisma and slight cockiness bodes well for the part. Though we are used to seeing him playing silly and bogus roles, he pulls off this serious role quite well. It is believable. But like I said, Depp’s persona allows for scenes to be more humorous than anticipated just because of his skill. My favorite scene is where he walks into the CPD “John Dillinger Squad” room, and he looks at all of his pictures. His smirk says it all. He then walks over to the cops and asks the score of the game. on the radio. What a cocky bastard!

Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard play great supporting roles. The inception of the FBI was a nice aside in the film, and it was neat to see figures like J. Edgar Hoover portrayed on the silver screen. Bale’s Marvin Purvis personifies the cold, heartless methodology of the “good” guys to be successful at all costs. Dillinger outsmarted them many a time throughout the movie. I was hoping Bale would slip on the Batman outfit. He may have had a bit more success.

Public Enemies is an example of what Michael Mann tries to with most of his works- create an artistic rendering where it seems there is no possibility for it. He challenges the conventional understanding of the good and bad guys by inverting the roles in a theatrical and emotional illusion. The film is good, but not great, hitting a few laborious points in the 2 hour and 20 minute span. While cinematically, Public Enemies is exceptional, it loses steam and falls a bit flat towards the end. I wasn’t left wishing the movie weren’t over.

The Heap gives it a 7.5/10


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