Public Enemies

Set during the Great Depression of the 1930’s Public Enemies follows the story of bank robbers John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), Baby-Face Nelson (Stephen Graham, who was so good in the BBC’s recent drama Insurgency) and the FBI’s attempt to capture them, led by Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). I can’t comment on the accuracy of the story but Wikipedia tells me that though the film is not one hundred percent fact “it’s by far the closest thing to fact Hollywood has attempted” so take that however you want.

The films pretty light on narrative relying more on imagery than a detailed plot which I felt a bit disappointed and would liked to have seen more than the mostly one dimensional characters portrayed. While I can see a deep story was not the intent of the film I do feel it would have significantly added to get to the motivations of the characters, especially during the interesting time of the Depression, as most actions are left pretty much unexplained.

Visually the film is fantastic; Mann’s style is always a wonder to behold if occasionally distracting camerawork detracts from some of the calmer scenes. Action is electrifying, both visually and audibly and is undoubtedly the highlight of the film, the assault on a log cabin, filmed at the actual location of the event, being a particular standout. The whole film oozes style all the way though and rivals all of Mann’s previous films in this respect.

Music consists of period pieces mixed with a solid original sound track that while not on the same level as the visuals has enough standout points to be memorable, my favourite being where Dillinger is paraded in front of the press which gives a great sense of foreboding. While not as evoking as some musical scores is undeniably fitting for the film.

Acting is good all round with Depp giving his usual impressive performance, most of the female characters are underused especially Anna Sage (Branka Katic) who plays such a major role in Dillinger’s fate. Christian Bale does a decent enough job but his accent seems a bit off but at least he doesn’t use his Batman for the whole film, yes Terminator Salvation I’m looking at you.

The final product of this is a fantastic looking film that could have been a masterpiece, though several missed opportunities to really get behind what drives the characters let it down, for some this won’t matter and what is there will be more than enough to satisfy them, while others may be left wishing there was a little more substance. However despite its flaws this is still one of the better films out so far this year and a huge improvement over Mann’s last film Miami Vice, that if nothing else this film shows Mann is still capable of directing.