No, its not about fundamentalist terrorists, email-faking public servants or even lying, scabrous politicians.
The film ‘Public Enemies’ starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard, directed by Michael Mann, is about the life and times of bank robber John Dillinger during the 1930s in the USA. Similar to Mann’s TV series ‘Miami Vice’, he serves up a very stylised story with little plot or character development and plenty of bullets fired from Thompson sub-machine guns.
Filmed like video, often extra close-up with actors make-up visible, and jerky panning movements, produces that unreal look of overclean surfaces in TV dramas. Patina and authenticity are missing in action, and studio technicians felt behind the scenes, leaving your viewer unconvinced, even uneasy.
The story lacks moral dilemmas to solicit our sympathy for Dillinger, who is interested in money, girls & high living. He’s loyal to friends, who all end up dead because of his actions. His ‘gal’ comprehends his destructive path from day one of their romance. Dillinger is shown as popular with the public and adept at spruiking to reporters, but he was no Robin Hood and left a violent swathe of killing in his wake. His old-style robbery methods are overtaken by modern Syndicates organised around illegal betting and we feel some sympathy for a disappearing dinosaur. But not enough to be surprised by his inevitable demise.
A secondary storyline about the rise of J. Edgar Hoover, his FBI and G-men, including Bale’s character as an ambitious agent protege, is an interesting take on a seminal figure in American law-enforcement and the introduction of ‘scientific’ crime investigation techniques. Hoover’s use of PR is well portrayed, and his willingness to use ‘extra-legal’ interrogation methods anticipated the future.
In the denouement our hero is at the movies with his gal, as police surround the cinema, watching Clark Gable in a role similar to his own. Mann overplays this: ironic piss-take? Despite okay acting by Johnny and Marion the film fails to convince either way. On the Margaret/David 5-point scale, final verdict and score is 1.5.