Public Enemies (2009) movie review- you’d think with a cast lead by Johnny Depp and Christian Bale and directed by Michael Mann, this movie would be a classic. Instead, the John Dillinger story has no emotion and takes liberties with history. I would have totally waived the criticism that Mann and the other scriptwriters took creative liberties with a historical crime drama for dramatic effect, but the only emotional scene was the last scene. So it’s not like they sacrificed historical accuracy for entertainment.
Public Enemies features fantastic acting performances, especially Johnny Depp, who didn’t even look like himself. I’m also sure that on paper the screenplay looks great. Although Mann’s direction was probably a bit too stylistic (long scenes, shaky camera, loud noises to scare you), that wasn’t the reason why the movie didn’t work. The setting looked like 1933 and the costumes and cars were very well done.
Public Enemies doesn’t work because there is just no emotional investment in Dillinger, his associates, his competitors, his mistress, or the FBI. It comes off as a neutral documentary, and I guess we’re supposed to slightly favor Dillinger over the abusive and incompetent FBI, lead by the twisted J Edgar Hoover. But it would be better to suspend our morals and root for Dillinger if Michael Mann showed us how hard the Great Depression was, and why John would become a folk hero by robbing banks. I mean, duh, banks are evil, right? And we are currently living in the Great REcession, right? Don’t you think we should have been hit with that emotional aspect?
Instead, Public Enemies feels like a dry non-fiction crime novel. Of course, the big skew is that it’s not even historically accurate, so if you are interested in John Dillinger you might as well watch a documentary.
I do grant that the last scene had emotion. It almost seemed like Michael Mann was trying to do a “Rosebud” on us after 2 hours 38 minutes. But by then, my ears where ringing from all of the machine gun fire and senseless decisions by the FBI, Dillinger, and his mistress.
The pacing is pretty bad..it really seems long. I think Michael Mann blew a golden opportunity to make a great movie about one of the most infamous characters in American history.