The Great Depression of the 1930s produced a new brand of criminal. Like the semi-media-popular James and Hole in the Wall gangs they robbed banks, trains and other businesses and shot up towns. They kidnapped people and held them for ransom. Weaponry and automobiles were the difference. They were violent, machine gun wielding slime balls that killed anyone that got in their way, especially law enforcement. Most were cowardly psychopaths whose getaways included grabbing hostages to use as shields during shootouts.
Today we call them terrorists.
America in the throes of a depression that makes today's recession look easy idolized them as heroes. That was because they robbed hated banks. Some think today's bank robbers actually run them but that's commentary for another day.
Michael Mann's Public Enemies reintroduces a few of these depression-era thugs to the modern moviegoer. The focus is on bank robber John Dillinger. He was tabbed the first Public Enemy Number One by J. Edgar Hoover who was at the time pushing to form what became the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Handsome, suave, funny and brilliant, Dillinger was the 1930s version of a rock star.
It's too bad Mann doesn't spend more time on his criminal career--or on those of the maniacal Baby Face Nelson, Alvin Karpis and Pretty Boy Floyd, who you meet briefly, and the man charged with bringing them to justice, Melvin Purvis. Instead, Johnny Depp's Dillinger mostly mumbles lines about his love for Oscar winner Marion Cotillard's (La vie en rose) Billie Frenchette. They, and several Dillinger gangs, are unsuccessfully chased by Christian Bale's Purvis. It's chase, shootout, a PO'd Purvis, chase another shootout and on it goes.
Dillinger's life was over-the-top. Depp's portrayal is distracted and disjointed. He seems bored. Who can blame him? Mann's script misses the best parts of being a depression era gangster. Bale, who--sorry fans--is nearly always boring, seems to have the same problem.
You learn nothing about these criminals or the era in Mann's bloated, over-produced, often historically inaccurate film done with sound so poorly recorded that what passes for dialogue is a muddled mess.
That is a crime of a different kind.
Mr. Movie rating: 2 stars
Rated R for mature themes, violence and language. It opened Wednesday, July 1 at the Carmike 12 and at Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars/4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen4 stars / 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie. 3 stars / 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD. 2 stars / 1 star: Don't bother.0 stars: Speaks for itself