Public Enemies (15)

Directed by Michael Mann
Written by Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman (screenplay)
Based on a book by Bryan Burrough
On general release from 3rd July 2009

Reviewed by Mari Jones

During America’s Great Depression in the thirties there was an enigmatic outlaw called John Dillinger, who carried out bank robberies with his gang of notorious criminals. Rather than hate him, the public were enamoured by him for stealing from greedy banks, and Dillinger became a celebrity. It seems fitting then that in the time of our own recession Michael Mann has chosen to make Public Enemies, a film chronicling Dillinger’s heists and the authorities’ attempts to hunt him down.

At first glance though this film has a very strange look. Mann has opted for a handheld digital camera, making it feel unusual and different to normal big budget Hollywood films. But this use of close and rapid camerawork actually puts the viewer right into the film, especially during the confusion of the brilliantly portrayed rough and realistic gunfights.

Johnny Depp gives depth to Dillinger without hamming it up and it’s hard to imagine an actor better suited to the role of the charismatic outlaw. Marion Cotillard proves why she won the 2008 Best Actress Academy Award with a terrific emotional performance as Dillinger’s lover Billie Frechette. Christian Bale shows yet again why he is one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, as he gives a quiet desperation to Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent trying everything to capture Dillinger.

The other actors in the film are a who’s who of Hollywood and American TV, with every cameo carefully shaped by both the writers and actors portraying them, making the characters feel whole even if they are seen for mere seconds. This also shows the depth and detail Mann has gone to in order to make this film and thoroughly represent this era, the historical facts about Dillinger and everyone around him. However it is a credit to Mann’s filmmaking that it never feels like a lecture on Dillinger’s life, as it is so well-paced and authentic that Public Enemies drags you right in and doesn’t let you go until the final tense climax.

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