Public Enemies on paper had all of the makings to be an instant classic. Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Michael Mann, and an epic gangster story set in the depression era. What more do you need to make cinematic gold? Well apparently, a lot more. As Public Enemies was slow, tedious, and at times downright boring. It’s one of the first film’s I’ve seen in a long time that I actually regret going to the theater for it and wouldn’t mind having my time back.
Now I must preface my review by saying that this film is not a total stinker. There is some decent action scenes and you do end up caring about the characters. But theres just far too many misses to make up for the hits. Depp plays John Dillinger, a smooth talking and charming bank robber in the 1930’s. One of the first of his kind and a man who made the entire U.S. police system rethink its methods. Dillinger has a cast of cohorts straight out of a Dick Tracy comic. There’s Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd, as well as a bevy of buxom beauties and the brutal force of a tommy gun. This is American mobster’s at their best, unfortunately the plot isn’t strong enough to give credence to this glamorized genre.
We start off with a cool jail bust and bank robbery, but then theres about 45 minutes of talk that kills any remaining buzz you might have. The girl in this film Billie Joe is sexy but probably not enough to make Dillinger stop in his tracks. The ensuing love story is monotonous, cliche, and just plain bland. These care free lovers are off galvanizing in the night with their stolen riches, while Detective Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) seems to always be one step behind.
Dillinger is caught, escapes, caught again, escapes again in a never ending merry go round of blood and bullets. It isn’t til the film’s third act that we finally see some sort of true climax with a pretty intense shoot out at a winter home in the woods. If only Michael Mann had the foresight to build up to this in a better way and close the film on a high note. Rather than to attach about another 30 minutes of pointless babble. In one of the film’s more eery scenes, Dillinger breaks into the police HQ of the task force assigned to bring him down. He even asks the detectives who are surrounded by wanted posters of him for the score to the ballgame, none of them noticing the criminal they seek stands right there before them.
As this is based off a true story, I assume those events really happened which is appaling to say the least for our men in blue. As much as I wanted to like this film, it just continued to disappoint and let down at nearly every turn. Michael Mann known for films like Heat, Miami Vice, and Ali, has always been lost in the buildup and backstory often creating a film that seems disjointed and hard to follow. His adaptation from the novel this film is based on is spotty at best and just doesn’t seem to hold the right tone at certain places. The one saving grace of any of this trainwreck is Johnny Depp. His portrayal of Dillinger is remarkable and he seems to become one with the character and time period. Depp shows his acting chops in this one and its good to see him as something outside of a peg leg and eye patch role.
Overall, if you are in the mood to see a film this summer The Hangover may still be your best bet. Public Enemies drops the ball at so many places and leaves the viewer completely underwhelmed. Bale’s acting is atrocious and Depp can’t carry the bad story on his own. The action is ok enough to warrant a rental if you’re just a sucker for a crime flick. But this film is another letdown in an abysmal summer. At first there was Oscar talk, but after viewing this movie I think it’s a safe bet that option is out the window.