Directed by Michael Mann
Based on the book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the F.B.I. 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough
Screenplay by Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, Ann Biderman
Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Channing Tatum, Giovanni Ribisi, Carey Mulligan
The crime wave of the early 1930’s has given rise to names like Pretty Boy Floyd (Tatum), Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham), and John Dillinger (Depp). With banks being robbed and people being murdered, law enforcement is looking for a way to fight back. Help comes from a newly formed task force, led by Special Agent Melvin Purvis (Bale). Now the F.B.I. is working tirelessly to take down these brazen criminals.
This movie is loosely based on the book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the F.B.I. 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough. The screenplay was written by Ronan Bennett (The Break), Ann Biderman (Primal Fear), and Michael Mann. Oscar nominee Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans) also directed this film. The cast features a number of award-winning actors including Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises), Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco), and Marion Cotillard (Midnight in Paris). In addition the cast includes Channing Tatum (Haywire), Carey Mulligan (Drive), and Giovanni Ribisi (Cold Mountain).
This story is a mix of fact and fiction, blended into the folklore of the 1930s. The facts came from the book by Bryan Burrough. The rest of the story came from the trio of screenwriters who filled in the gaps with their own version of the events. Above all, this is a story about John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis, two men on opposite sides of the law. The movie is a slow-moving drama with intense action scenes spread throughout it. The dialogue is straightforward and nicely written, never pushing any cliche or stereotypes. Overall, this is an interesting take on the story behind the efforts to capture John Dillinger. Although it feels detailed, the movie also moves a bit too slowly, requiring a bit of patience to get through some segments.
The acting in this movie is excellent. If anything makes up for the pace of the film, it’s the great performances of Depp, Bale, and Cotillard. Together with the rest of the cast, this trio opens up a unique version of the 1930s that feels alive and exciting. For Depp, this seems to be one of the more restrained roles he’s had in some time. Playing Dillinger, Depp has to bring out a cool confidence that fits into the widely accepted history of the man. Bale does a great job with his part as the motivated and devoted law enforcement officer. Finally, Marion Cotillard is wonderful in her role as Dillinger’s girlfriend. Overall, this movie features great acting that elevates the story and makes up for the slower pace of the film.
This movie was filmed, in some instance, at the locations of the actual events being depicted. Mann took advantage of the historic buildings and preserved locations across the Midwest as he selected his shooting schedule. In addition, efforts were made to get other appropriate props and cars from the era. The result of this attention to detail is a movie that truly recreates a world from the past. The costuming, sets, and action all come together in a way that feels authentic to the story. The cinematography should also be mentioned as an aspect of the success of the visuals in this one.
Unfortunately, the pace of this movie might have hurt the overall reception. This is a slowly moving film that may have spent too much time on the finer details of the history. Instead of a flashy film focusing on Dillinger’s Robin Hood reputation, the movie looks at the cat and mouse game played between the criminals and the authorities. The overall result is a docudrama that offers a more complete version of the story with less of the drama. I would recommend this one to anyone who loves the history behind the story. I would also suggest this to fans of Depp, Bale, or Cotillard. This is a film that requires patience, but also offers some brutally honest action throughout. I give this one 3.3 out of 5 stars.