Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Michael Mann (“Collateral”)
Written by: Michael Mann (“Heat”), Ronan Bennett (“Lucky Break”), and Ann Biderman (“Primal Fear”)
The scintillating cast may be blinding at first glance in director Michael Mann’s new gangster flick “Public Enemies,” but even the star power of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale can’t save the era piece from making a surprisingly ordinary entrance into the genre.
While all the style and technical work is masterful, there a little something missing between the lines of the 140-minute tribute to Chicago’s crime wave of the 1930s that most people would notice if it wasn’t for all the intense shootouts. Who knew that when Johnny Depp says, “Let’s go to Chicago and make some money,” that’s really all they were going to do?
Set four years into the Great Depression, bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) has just broken out of prison with a group of men who will help him rob more banks. Dillinger starts off enigmatic and screenwriters Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett, and Ann Biderman make sure he stays that way for the entire film. As a matter of fact, all we really find out about Dillinger is that he leads a spontaneous life, can handle a Tommy gun with the best of them, and is extremely slick with the ladies. Dillinger might have been an icon, but “Public Enemies” seems fine in simply promoting his cool factor as the basis to which he is remembered the most. There a sense of the loneliness that director Mann should have been more capable of exposing, but that character trait is left undiscovered until the finale when there not much left to say.
Despite his character’s shortcomings, Depp is the center of this show and delivers as much as the script allows. The same can’t be said about Christian Bale and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard (“La vie en rose”) whose characters, Agent Mevlin Purvis and Dillinger’s love interest Billie Frechette, are sorely underwritten. It’s not their fault. Their motivation to pursue Dillinger from a criminal and personal aspect never amounts to more than a few systematic scenes, which falls on the shoulders of screenwriters once again.
The writer’s biggest fault comes from skimming over the emotional impact in one of the most emotional times in U.S. history. And while the era and setting are very convincing (costume designer Collen Atwood should be getting some recognition by year’s end) nothing else develops around the picturesque scenes other than more bullet holes.
If you go into this film like Dillinger would – scene-by-scene without worrying about what is around the corner – “Public Enemies” could be a fairly interesting biopic minus the historical inaccuracies. But tie everything together and the film is deeply flawed and disappointing. Just when you’re hoping Mann will throw everything on the table, he folds without an ounce of expression.