Movie Review: Public Enemies

Quick Version: This Gangster Movie shot in High Definition “Shaky-Cam” Style is entertaining, especially for fans of gangster films, but ultimately nothing in the film stands out, and its unable to earn a place among the well known classics.

Its the 1930’s during The Great Depression, its a time of Fedoras, Tommy Guns, and larger than life Gangsters.

Public Enemies is a movie that centers around outlaw celebrities John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his gang, which at one point includes my personal favorite Baby-Faced Nelson, as they knock over banks, run from cops and shoot up police. FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is sent to deal with our American Gangsters by the newly formed FBI lead by J.Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). His mission to bring these criminals to justice to help justify the existence of the bureau.

Now every self respecting man should have at least a few gangster movies in their DVD collection, but does Public Enemies deserve a spot among them?

What you will Like:

Visual Style
In Public Enemies everything is shot in Full HD and attempts to put the viewers straight into the film in almost Reality TV/Documentary type of way. It worked. The style never broke the atmosphere, instead it only added to it – as odd as that sound for a period piece in 1930s.

Not only does the look of the film help immerse the audience it also gives us a fresh “look” at the environments in startling clarity during that dark time period.

Realistic Tommy Gun Shoot Outs
The Weapons sound fucking awesome! This is what I love about Michael Mann – The Director. Mann is the guy behind movies like: Heat, The Collateral, and The Kingdom. He knows how to depict the raw gritty feel of gun battles like no one else. I was hoping for a few more gun battles but what is there in the film is an excellent watch.

The acting was Top-notch, Depp does a great job (as always) as a believable Dillinger – even though some lines couldn’t help but feel like rip off’s from Tony Montana (Scarface) himself. Unfortunately, Bales character didn’t have a whole lot to do here except to wait around and react to Dillinger. He was never developed and reminded me of what he was given in Terminator Salvation, but here at least he has solid direction.
Memorable supporting performances included Baby Face Nelson who was one crazy over the top maniac who lived up his celebrity. FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover was also perfect, with his dead-on accent and mannerisms from actor Billy Crudup.

This film is 2hrs 30min, but it doesn’t at all feel like it. I was surprised when I looked up the running length. This proves the pacing to be excellent and engaging.

What you Wont:

Force Perspectives and Camera Movement
While overall the High Definition reality style worked – some aspects felt forced. Especially at the beginning of the film. It feels unnecessarily “shaky” and shot at odd angles. Luckily, somewhere after the first 1/3 of the film, you stop noticing, so the annoyance fades before it ever becomes a problem.

Sound & Its Soundtrack
The most frustrating part of the film was moments where I had trouble hearing the actors, and this wasn’t just me. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just poor post-production work but its unacceptable. The inconsistent volume during dialogue portions took me out of the experience and left me confused.

Another aspect that held the film back was the soundtrack, it was an odd mixed bag. At times it felt appropriate – scenes like the apple orchid chase when Bale Guns down a Gangster, but other times the soundtrack is completely missing during times it would seem appropriate to have dramatic music playing.

Restraints of the Source Material
The movie ends up a bit anti-climatic, and thats because its based on the actual life of John Dillinger. The gangster ended up dead on the sidewalk outside of a movie theater shot in the back of the head. No Epic Last Stand, No prolonged Gun Battle – just BAM dead. The movie does its best to glamorize it, but you’ll still wish more liberty was taken with the ending.

Final Verdict

*Best Gangster Voice*
Bale, Depp, Tommy Guns, and Gangsters, You See? That’s all you need to know kid. Now go see this movie-picture or you’ll be sleepin’ with the fishes capish? Whats that ya’ say?
Ya’ Don’t Like it? Well Screw you buddy, Ya’ Mug! Now i’ve gots’ to amscray before the coppers show – They’ll never take me alive, you see, NEVER! Cuz I’m “Angry-Faced” Joe – the Meanest Son-of-a-Bitch this side of Texas!


*Fires Tommy Gun Widely Into the Air*

Movie Review: Public Enemies, 6.9 out of 10 based on 93 ratings