Public Enemies

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Review byMatthew Turner1/07/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 140 mins

Michael Mann's eagerly anticipated gangster epic doesn't disappoint – this is a hugely enjoyable, impressively directed thriller with a great ensemble cast and powerful performances by Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard.

What's it all about?
Directed by Michael Mann, Public Enemies is based on the book by Bryan Burrough and tells the true story of legendary Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger. As the film opens, Dillinger (Johnny Depp) stages a daring prison outbreak in order to spring his friend and mentor Walter Dietrich (James Russo) and we're introduced to the other members of Dillinger's gang, including David Wenham as Harry “Pete” Pierpont, Jason Clarke as Red Hamilton and Stephen Dorff as Homer Van Meter.

As the gang pull their latest super-efficient bank job, fledgling FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) announces a war on crime and assigns top agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) the task of capturing Dillinger, dead or alive. Meanwhile, in between various prison breaks and bank jobs, Dillinger falls in love with beautiful hat-check girl Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), angers the Italian “syndicate”, headed by Frank Nitti (Bill Camp), and forms an uneasy alliance with unpredictable psychopath Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham).

The Good
The performances are excellent – Depp is perfectly cast as the charismatic, charming Dillinger and he has strong chemistry with Cotillard; the speech he gives her when they get together is a definite highlight. Similarly, Bale underplays to strong effect and there's terrific support from Stephen Graham (going a little over the top, but in a good way), Crudup and particularly Jason Clarke, whose death scene is extremely moving. (Look out too for an amusingly tiny cameo from Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd).

Aside from some thrilling shoot-outs and exciting jail break and bank job sequences, there are several memorable scenes (such as Dillinger's press conference) and the dialogue is packed with great lines. There's also a fantastic score, courtesy of Elliot Goldenthal.

The Bad
Like Mann's previous film, Miami Vice, Public Enemies is shot entirely in Hi-Definition Video, by his regular collaborator, Dante Spinotti. However, while the film is undeniably beautifully shot, you occasionally find yourself wishing Mann had gone with the traditional glossy Hollywood approach instead.

Worth seeing?
Public Enemies is a hugely entertaining, superbly directed gangster thriller with terrific performances from Depp, Bale and Cotillard. Highly recommended.
Public Enemies London Premiere

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Content updated: 17/10/2019 00:02

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