Since crime auteur Michael Mann, like his protagonists, plays by his own rules, Public Enemies eschews back story and motivation for a closely-observed, action-packed examination of men at work. FBI supremo J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) kick-starts a nationwide manhunt when he proclaims John Dillinger (Johnny Depp, in top form) Public Enemy #1. Hoover taps Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to bring the Tommy Gun-toting bank robber in by any means necessary (the agency also targets Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson). If Dillinger had split the scene then and there, he might have enjoyed a happier fate, but he falls for beautiful coat-check girl Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard, whose open-hearted performance makes her the most sympathetic character in the film). In the end, though, Dillinger is the captain of his own destiny: his loyalty to his girl and his gang overpowers his desire to live free. Though the director also set his first film, Thief, and third series, Crime Story, in his native Chicago, Public Enemies plays more like Heat in Depression-era garb. In that L.A. policier, Al Pacino's cop develops a grudging respect for Robert De Niro's criminal, but letting a lawbreaker go free isn't an option. In this case, however, the tight-lipped Purvis never develops the same sort of esteem for Dillinger--or Hoover--making him the more tragic figure. If Public Enemies is less overtly commercial than The Untouchables or Bugsy, it's still the best mainstream gangster epic in ages and ranks among Mann's finest works. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
In the action-thriller Public Enemies, acclaimed filmmaker Michael Mann directs Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard in the story of legendary Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger (Depp)--the charismatic bank robber whose lightning raids made him the number one target of J. Edgar Hoover's fledglign FBI and its top agent, Melvin Purvis (Bale), and a folk hero to much of the downtrodden public.
No one could stop Dillinger and his gang. No jail could hold him. His charm and audacious jailbreaks endeared him to almost everyone--from his girlfriend Billie Frechette (Cotillard) to an American public who had no sympathy for the banks that had plunged the country into Depression.
But while the adventures of Dillinger's gang--late including the sociopath Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) and Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi)--thrilled many, Hoover (Billy Crudup) hit on the idea of exploiting the outlaw's capture as a way to elevate his Bureau of Investigation into the national police force that became the FBI. He made Dillinger America's first Public Enemy Number One and sent in Purvis, the dashing "Clark Gable of the FBI".
However, Dillinger and his gang outwitted and outgunned Purvis' men in wild chases and shootouts. Only after importing a crew of Western ex-lawmen (newly baptised as agents) and orchestrating epic betrayals--from the infamous "Lady in Red" to the Chicago crime boss Frank Nitti--were Purvis, the FBI and their new crew of gunfighters able to close in on Dillinger.