Review: Public Enemies–Universal Pictures 2009

The Crowd: there were more than a few folks at the theatre who looked a little like gangsters seeking inspiration. Dillinger attracts a quieter, smarter more stylish brand of gangster.

The Reviewer: balcony center with his lady.

Eating : Snow Caps and a Starbucks Doubleshot to wash it down.

This Michael Mann’s interpretation of the story of John Dillinger, violent career criminal or the 1930s whose penchant for never robbing the customers when he robbed banks during the Great Depression, made him a folk anti-hero.

He had an amazing knack for breaking out of prison and eluding law enforcement.

What probably made Dillinger effective in real-life was the natural bravado and daring that one needs to live a successful life of crime and violence.

He also had an intellect for understanding human nature which the best criminals have as a hallmark.

The film opens with a prison break in the State of Indiana in the 1930s. It was probably simply planned but incredibly well-executed, preying on the one deadliest human failure-complacency.

It traces many of his well-publicized escape from jail and the law and his romance with a young coat check girl.

The lawmen who pursued him were tough people from a tough era. We may laugh at J. Edgar, but I would not have ever wanted to be on his bad side. The portrait of Melvin Purvis was interesting. It was basically an intelligent, thoughtful man not only trying to do his job well, but trying to invent his job at the same time. Dillinger confronts him at one point in the movie pointing out that maybe Purvis didn’t have the toughness or ruthlessness that Dillinger had, but in the end Purvis was committed and Dillinger was distracted.

The movie illustrates that Dillinger had some inside help from crooked cops and the Chicago mob, but in the end when he became a liability they turned the other way.

This was an excellent old-style gangster film, but lacking most of the sappiness that made many of the old gangster films unbearable.

The film was very well-directed. It flowed effortlessly from scene to scene and vignette to vignette without ever boring us.

The scenery, clothing, props were nothing short of brilliant.

The re-creation of small-town America, down to the ads that used to be painted on the sides of buildings-many still visible when I was a kid in the 1960s added an air of detail that was brilliant.

The frightening power of the Tommy Gun, with more realistic sound effects than the bad 30s flicks added realism and made you want to jump behind your seat to get out of the way of the carnage.

Johnny Depp was once again brilliant. An aside here for a minute. For a guy who started out as a face man, he is truly one of the best actors of our generation. I don’t see him, I see the character. For example see Sleepy Hollow or Pirates of the Caribbean. With bad acting we always see the actor. With Depp, I see the character. Although I must admit that I hated the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

And to give credit where credit is due, it was so well acted I did not recognize many of the big name actresses and actors in the film-Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff.

Marion Cotillard adds that Bonnie and Clyde aspect of hopeless love to the story. She was also quite believable.

Stephen Lang is haunting as the Texas Lawman who knows his job well and does it better than anyone else in the country, but doesn’t necessarily have to like it. We sense he understands the bad guy, because he has a ruthless violent edge just like they do, but has an internal compass that keeps him on the right side of the law.

The musical score by Elliot Goldenthal is very well done. Was that Diana Krall I see crooning in one scene? Very hip.

In the end, if you don’t like gratuitous violence, don’t watch this movie, but I recommend that you see it now while it’s at the theatre. I believe it may set the standard for the nouveau retro gangster movie.

Highly Recommended.


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