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Public Enemies (2009)

America's Most Wanted

Directed by:

Michael Mann

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 140 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

First came Pacino and De Niro and now it’s Depp and Bale. After 1995’s Heat, Public Enemies is Michael Mann’s second pairing of two heavyweight movie stars of their generation.

Public Enemies follows the story of John Dillinger (Depp), the most successful bank robber in Depression-era America, as his gang rob their way across the country. On the other side of the law is Melvin Pervis (Bale) and the fledgling FBI on the tails of Dillinger and his gang. As the net tightens around them the bank robbers find themselves met at every turn by the incompetent and increasingly desperate FBI.

The storyline rambles through the usual gangster arc of the highs, then the lows and the inevitable bloody end of a hoodlum’s career. This film just adds to the endless romanticised portrayals of American gangsters and drug dealers (Henry Hill, Frank Lucas, George Jung, Al Capone etc) who by the end we are meant to feel sorry for, without anything being added to the genre.

With this being a largely factual portrayal the two leads are not given enough free reign to make the characters their own. They do okay in their roles but you can’t help but think that it could have been done by two less accomplished actors – say, Keanu Reeves takes on Casper van Dien in a battle for acting mediocrity. Anyhow, this actually turns out to be a Johnny Depp sundae with a sprinkle of Christian Bale. The latter’s character isn’t really fleshed out and he just turns up briefly when the FBI cocks things up. The only time they share screen time is in a Silence of the Lambsesque jail scene that had me wondering when Depp would ask “Quid pro quo?” In the future it would be nice just to see Christian Bale start smiling again and for Depp to return to his quirky indie roots.

The story is in the Mann mould of a slowburning, visually impressive, character-driven epic and to these ends it does not disappoint. It’s long and unhurried, the period detail is flawless and, of course, it is all about the main characters. All that being said, it’s not a bad film, I was just expecting something better from two great actors plus Michael Mann.

It's Got: soundtrack and period detail

It Needs: More urgent and tighter narrative, more electrifying performances


American Gangster, Blow, The Untouchables


An average gangster biography that just doesn’t leave enough for the heavyweights to play with.