Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors out there. He's got an incredible knack for character study as well as a really unique way of shooting his films. He's the master of digital night shots, and he's adapted the use of digital into his own style of filmmaking. I love it. It gives the film so much more of a raw, realistic feel, almost documentary style. When Mann writes or directs, he feels for the bad guy- he lets you see inside the bad guys mind, lets you feel what he's feeling, gives you a glimpse into their heart, and makes you root for him. Very few filmmakers do this, and nobody does it better than Mann. He did this with Vincent (Tom Cruise) in Collateral, with Neil McCauley (Robert Deniro) and Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) in Heat, and he does it again with John Dillinger in Public Enemies.
John Dillinger, portrayed by one of the best most versatile actors of our time, Johnny Depp, robbed banks, shot whomever got in his way, and was the king of the crime wave in the 1930's, and he did it in style. He was a well dressed ladies man with a baby face and a finger with an itch for the trigger. Dillinger only robbed big businesses and banks. He lived among the people in no fear and never harmed them. The opening scene shows Dillinger escaping from jail and from there on out he's pursued by Melvin Purvis played by Christian Bale by the orders of J. Edgar Hoover head of the FBI played by the always great, always underrated Billy Crudup. The 1930's was a time when the FBI was on the rise and really made a stand against crime. As said by Hoover in the film during a speech made to the public it was "Americas first war on crime". It was on every news channel in the country, and so was Dillinger's face, making it for the first time in his life, very difficult to be on the run.
Depp plays Dillinger very stone faced and emotionless. I think this works since this film is really about the fall of Dillinger and the fact that he's finally facing the realities of what he's done. But that doesn't mean Dillinger has lost his "no fear" status, not in the least. There is a great scene towards the end of the film where Dillinger walks into the police station and right into the "John Dillinger investigation headquarters," right past his own mug shot and actually talks to one of the officers without being noticed. We're so used to seeing Depp play the roles of dirty pirates and killer barbers that we forget that he can be a very clean cut handsome man with the ability to still convince the audience of his character. Marion Cotillard did an amazing job as Billie Frechetta, Dillinger's lover, a woman who stood by him, understood him, and trusted him, even though it gets her nabbed. Bale always does a good job with whatever project he's involved with, but here he was just okay. Not bad, just not that impressive. Crudup on the other hand was amazing. He must have gone through some real voice training because he certainly nailed his speech and dialogue to perfection.
There's lots of hand held shots that really give it that documentary feel and seeing a period piece shot in digital was new for everyone I think. I've heard some people say they were annoyed with the way it was shot and that the digital made it look unrealistic, but it certainly worked for me. There is an absolutely extraordinary sequence in the film where Dillinger and his men get ambushed at the house they're staying at in the middle of the woods during the night. This is the biggest most intense sequence in the film as a massive gunfight and chaotic chase ensues. If this wasn't shot in digital we wouldn't be able to see anything, but because it was, Mann is able to deliver the gun battle in epic detail. This scene reminded me of the big gun fight in the streets of L.A. in Heat. Mann knows how to deliver a perfect gun shot sound too. No fake, electric, zipping sounds, these are hardcore real shots we hear. This is by far my favorite part of the film and one of the best sequences I've seen all year. This is another film to watch out for come awards season. I give Public Enemies 4 1/2 outa 5.