Public Enemies Movie Review

Combining artful filmmaking with a true story, this internalised thriller keeps us thoroughly involved in the experiences of a notorious anti-hero. And superb acting makes sure that we care what happens to him.

In 1933, John Dillinger (Depp) is America's public enemy No 1, the top target for FBI chief Hoover (Crudup) and his top agent Purvis (Bale). And the brazen nature of his bank-robbing spree makes the Feds even more irate. But as Dillinger falls for the exotic Billie (Cotillard), his colleagues are being captured or killed. Dillinger may be able to slip out of prison, but without his trusted friends, he's forced to work with unpredictable gangsters like Baby Face Nelson (Graham) and Alvin Karpis (Ribisi). And the agents are closing in.

Mann approaches this film almost like poetry, using fine camerawork and editing to focus on internal emotions and relationships while keeping things low-key and authentic. Even so, the film is at heart a ripping action movie, with scenes that crackle with nearly unbearable intensity. But Mann's hand is so steady that he makes us feel the sweat on the backs of our necks rather than just wow us with flashy pyrotechnics. As a result, the film feels like a classic even as we're watching it unfold before us.

This expansive/minimal approach allows the actors to create vividly engaging characters because there's the space for quiet introspection, complex emotions and tiny observations. Depp gives a layered performance as a confident folk hero who worries about what people think. Watching him hide in plain sight is utterly riveting, as is his simmering chemistry with the wonderful Cotillard.

Opposite them, Bale is superbly steely and methodical, with brief glimpses of humanity. And amid the vast cast of fantastic faces, both Crudup and Graham give electric, scene-stealing turns.

And the film gurgles with several resonant themes, from the evolution of crime (bank-robbers to inter-state mobs) to the way cops spend more chasing robbers than the robbers actually steal. There are also some provocative moral issues, such as the contrast between the criminals' thuggery and the torture and blackmail employed by the cops. But what lingers in the mind afterwards is the raw emotion between John and Billie, as well as the subtly nerve-wracking suspense.

Comments

Public Enemies Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: 15, 2009

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