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Public Enemies [DVD] [2009]

Guide price: £9

Last updated on 28th Nov 2009

Tags: public enemies

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Public Enemies [DVD] [2009]

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


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