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Overall Rating

Awesome: 17.24%
Worth A Look: 15.52%
Average: 18.97%
Pretty Bad34.48%
Total Crap: 13.79%

4 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Public Enemies
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by brianorndorf

"Mann takes cinema into the future...of 1998"
2 stars

It started with “Ali.” There, revered director Michael Mann cautiously backed away from the stiff mechanics of traditional storytelling to form his own cinematic language, armed with a marathon script and liberating HD cameras. The John Dillinger gangster tale “Public Enemies” represents the implosion of Mann’s balloon of progress. In chasing his own insufferable visual punctuation and distancing performance needs, Mann swings and misses hard with “Enemies,” gathering an enviable platter of cold stares, blasting Tommy Guns, and lustful smirks, but losing himself in the deafening filmmaking affectation. Rarely has a wonderland of hardened gangsters, flighty dames, and widescreen bank robbing been rendered this lifeless.

With a nation in the throes of the Great Depression, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his band of thugs (including Stephen Dorff, David Wenham, and Jason Clarke) built a name for themselves as they tore across the Midwest, robbing banks to line their own pockets. On their trail is Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), a determined FBI agent appointed by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) to stop Dillinger by any means necessary. Settling around Chicago, Dillinger finds love with coat check girl Billie (Marion Cotillard), who’s swept up by the crook’s declarations of protection. Hoping to keep a low profile, Dillinger’s antics and eventual betrayals attract the attention of the swarming G-Men, putting the criminal on the run and his personal associates in danger of arrest.

“Public Enemies” is stuck in neutral and it’s difficult to isolate the primary flawed component of the picture. There’s so much inertia and crummy decision making in play here, reducing “Enemies” to a 140-minute-long countdown to nowhere; a film blessed with a massive budget to go damn near anywhere it pleases within a neglected genre, and Mann picks a dead air, faux-cerebral approach to dramatize the (sorta) life and times of John Dillinger. We’ve waded in these murky aesthetic waters before with “Miami Vice” and “Collateral,” but never this unproductively. Mann is lost at sea with the “Enemies” world, caught between the need to connect a respectful history of Dillinger and his own arid meditations, which I suppose are meant to pass for meaningful contemplation.

Perhaps the largest single artistic thumbprint of worry is Mann’s use of HD camerawork. While I applaud the director’s elaborate commitment to avoid a Bogdanovich route of painstaking, era-specific lensing decoration, the slick, smeary cinematography on “Enemies” rips the spine right out of the material. Mann pours salt on the wound by insisting on a tipsy hand-held approach, which turns an A-list Hollywood blockbuster into something resembling a junior high weekend class project from the St. Francis School for Troubled Boys. Mann shoves his lens millimeters away from the faces of the actors (Depp and Bale’s nostrils should demand above-the-title billing), losing their crucial reactions in the inky darkness, and cruelly bounces the rubber camera around to remind audiences that we’re watching cutting-edge technology covering ancient criminal behaviors. It’s a thin-ice proposition to call out legendary cinematographer Dante Spinotti like this, but “Enemies” looks atrocious, and worse, excruciatingly obvious. There’s meticulous Depression-era production design everywhere that’s wasted while Mann counts the pores on Depp’s face.

Mann also fumbles the psychological tints of the screenplay. Cherry picking moments from Dillinger’s life to assemble a workable narrative, “Enemies” rarely levitates off the ground, tracking customary love story beats to offset the mummifying procedural atmosphere in Bale’s neck of the woods. The interaction between Dillinger and Billie is never authentic, and Depp and Cotillard share little chemistry to help sell the heat. Depp is superior with his contents-under-pressure role, but there’s no crack in the fence of arrogance to peek through to better understand this anti-hero Mann is hungry to celebrate. Neither a Robin Hood figure (the script sniffs around a weird moral code, but never follows through) nor a breathtaking criminal mastermind, Mann depicts Dillinger as a first in a long line of media-born stars, where a legacy was crafted through headlines and newsreels, much to the gangster’s delight. Again, Depp can do cocksure in his sleep, but Mann never squeezes Dillinger tightly enough to provide a reason to invest. Over two hours of staring from Depp and Bale gets old in a hurry. Those sticking around for red hot bank robbing action should be aware that Dillinger’s criminal calling card eats up, at best, ten whole minutes of the movie. The rest of the action is articulated through repetitive shadow play gunfights that showcase Mann’s technical expertise, but only if you’re a diehard fan of meticulous muzzle flashes.

All gloss, playing at times like a parody of the gangster movies it looks to emulate, “Public Enemies” adds up to shockingly little in the end. Historically, I’m inclined to disregard it as one-dimensional hero worship. Dramatically, it’s a flat tire; a routine of G-Men chasing down gangsters without the benefit of a captivating perspective or even the faintest sign of an emotional invitation. Visually, “Public Enemies” is pure, reckless masturbation, picking exhaustive immediacy over needed finesse and restraint. For those expecting a chic thrill ride of cops and robbers, “Public Enemies” is not that picture. It’s not really any sort of dramatic feature, but merely an empty vessel for Michael Mann to spin furious circles, shedding much of the vanguard appeal that once came so easily to him.

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originally posted: 07/03/09 22:55:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/23/12 roscoe Hated this. Depp is miscast. Little action, no interest, no intensity, overlong 1 stars
9/19/10 Jan Patterson Disappoints. Some cllassic Mann, beautiful Depp moments stolen by careless camera & editing 2 stars
3/07/10 matt upon further review, hugely flawed 2 stars
1/27/10 Durwood Good gangster film, but you can't feel sorry for Dillinger--he was nothing but a crook! 4 stars
1/01/10 mr.mike Action Fan beat me to it. Oates and Stanton were priceless in that film. 3 stars
12/19/09 Monday Morning Amazing they can spend $200+ mil. and come up with this underwhelming, disappointing film 2 stars
12/11/09 Jack I'm stunned. Mann has lost it. Period. 1 stars
12/11/09 action movie fan dillinger 1973 was far better-faster moving and more comic relief 2 stars
12/05/09 matt fictionalized, but hugely entertaining 5 stars
10/19/09 The Lurchprong Splitter Setup hindered by overindulgence in being a period piece. 3 stars
9/02/09 Jeff Wilder Effective old school gangster flick. Depp great. Bale effective but underused. 4 stars
8/31/09 Dave Phosdyk I 'd give it 3 and a half stars 3 stars
7/24/09 Toni Gangsters with Tommy guns, classic Mann what more could you ask for? 4 stars
7/23/09 stiletto average blahhhhhhhhhhhh 1 stars
7/22/09 Gummby3 It's nice to see Hollywood writers actually create something original for once. 4 stars
7/18/09 MoovieMac Literate and thoughtful. Takes you back effectively to this time and place. Like a Monogram 4 stars
7/17/09 R.W. Welch C+ account of Dillinger days; could have been tightened up. 3 stars
7/17/09 damalc it must have been hard to make a movie starring Depp so uninteresting 3 stars
7/12/09 Jeff Wilder Good gangster film that's easy to admire. But tough to love. Mann's a master filmmaker. 4 stars
7/12/09 Ivan Lendl ditto Brian Orndorf 2 stars
7/12/09 Ivan Lendl brilliant review and writing by Erik Childress 2 stars
7/11/09 MP Bartley If you want things spelling out for you, watch a Ron Howard film. Terrific entertainment. 4 stars
7/07/09 michael man i suck and i have not made a great film since Heat and fuck you all 1 stars
7/06/09 Johnny Eager Script poor.. acting good. Hand Held camera has to go! 4 stars
7/06/09 Johnny Mac You can't be serious! 5 stars
7/05/09 pete sampras Mann fails on every level on this one. Overhyped film with average script, mediocre acting 1 stars
7/05/09 Serena Williams Mann's restraint from preaching demonstrates maturity. 5 stars
7/05/09 rafael nadal i'm sorry but this movie fails on trying to say something 1 stars
7/04/09 Andy Roddick Like the bird in the song, Public Enemies is hauntingly dark and mysteriously beautiful. 5 stars
7/03/09 Kermit Crissey not as good as I was hoping 2 stars
7/03/09 roger federer feels like a USA documentary on 1930's gangster life posing as art 1 stars
7/03/09 Ming Johnny Depp was great as Dillinger. An excellent film about the violent time of this period 4 stars
7/01/09 pantera very boring slow ass crime drama 1 stars
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  01-Jul-2009 (R)
  DVD: 08-Dec-2009


  DVD: 08-Dec-2009

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