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Johnny Depp’s ‘Public Enemies’ Delivers Bona Fide Chicago Powerhouse

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Average: 3.7 (13 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Was John Dillinger an Adolf Hitler-level criminal mastermind or a modern-day Robin Hood superman? In the authentic reality portrayed by the god-like Johnny Depp in the Chicago-filmed “Public Enemies,” he’s a little bit of both for blockbuster filmmaker Michael Mann.

Unfortunately, Depp’s nemesis – special agent Melvin Purvis as played by “The Dark Knight” mainstay Christian Bale – falls flat. Bale rolls through the motions with a monotone and monotonous role that needed the tension of a World War conflict rather than a rubber band.

Christian Bale in Public Enemies with Johnny Depp from Michael Mann
Christian Bale stars as special agent Melvin Purvis – the nemesis of the legendary Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger – in “Public Enemies” from filmmaker Michael Mann.
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The French actress Marion Cotillard, on the other hand, delivers yet another intoxicating performance as Billie Frechette this time in a supporting role. We’re reminded why she ever-so-definitely deserved her 2008 Oscar for so absolutely embodying Edith Piaf in 2007’s “La Vie en Rose”.

Leelee Sobieski is thrown in toward the end as the downplayed character Polly Hamilton in a relatively wasted and unnecessary cameo. In addition, Matt Craven – who you’ve almost certainly never heard of, has no relation to Wes Craven and looks strikingly like Sean Penn – is merely being mentioned in this review for the three aforementioned points of comedy.

Giovanni Ribisi from “My Name is Earl,” “Friends” and the underrated film “Heaven” (that too many people haven’t seen but should rent tomorrow) methodically portrays Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. While John Dillinger was public enemy No. 1 for the FBI, Karpis was the final public enemy to be nailed.

Johnny Depp in Public Enemies from Michael Mann
Johnny Depp as the legendary Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger in “Public Enemies” from filmmaker Michael Mann.
Photo credit: Peter Mountain, Universal Pictures

Karpis’ capture catapulted FBI director J. Edgar Hoover – portrayed with spot-on calculation by Billy Crudup of “Watchmen” and “Almost Famous” fame – and the FBI to national eminence. In the “Public Enemies” period piece, J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI both have a tall task: proving to the American government and people that they should exist and are competent crime stoppers.

The FBI takes on John Dillinger’s infamous bank-robbing gang as well as other high-profile public enemies (including Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson and Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd) as a launch pad for proving that their government jobs should exist and be handsomely funded.

While moviegoers clearly pack a love-or-hate relationship for Christian Bale following his long career of hit-or-miss films, Johnny Depp typically draws universal appeal at the box office from fans of all ages and genders. Depp’s deep, crazed, complicated and multi-dimensional portrayal of John Dillinger makes this film worth buying into for his performance alone.

Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard in Public Enemies from Michael Mann
Johnny Depp (left) and Marion Cotillard in “Public Enemies” from filmmaker Michael Mann.
Photo credit: Peter Mountain, Universal Pictures

While the camera always loves Depp’s face and he’s never tough to look at, WGA writers Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman grace Depp with a bevy of potent material. He confidently crows in the film, for example, that he can rob a bank with his dogged posse in 100 seconds “flat”.

When Bale first meets and confronts Depp in jail one of the many times he’s captured before later escaping, Depp attempts to delve into Bale’s head about “what keeps him up at night” and whether the images of all the criminals he’s captured and killed haunt his dreams. When Bale turns the question back on Depp, the demented Depp only says one witty word: “coffee”.

Likewise, Dillinger’s balls-to-the-wall and aggressively confrontational criminal character is best exemplified by a scene when Depp walks right into a Chicago police department in the light of the day and without a guise.

Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard in Public Enemies from Michael Mann
Johnny Depp (middle) and Marion Cotillard in “Public Enemies” from filmmaker Michael Mann.
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Intrigued by finding the office of a special task force devoted singularly to his incarceration, he strolls through it at a snail’s pace and asks a gaggle of cops “what’s the score?” of a baseball game they’re listening to on the radio. They don’t even notice who’s asking.

StarSee our high-quality, 36-image “Public Enemies” slideshow.

StarSee our 12-image Chicago slideshow for “Public Enemies” filming.

StarRead our full “Public Enemies” coverage.

StarMore film reviews from critic Adam Fendelman.

The seminal moment in Chicago at the Biograph Theater – where Dillinger dangerously attends the 1934 film “Manhattan Melodrama” with Polly Hamilton – climatically executes with authenticity, tension and grainy, “you are there” cinematography.

Despite scores of cinematic achievements and veritable character representations, “Public Enemies” loses points on its pacing. Some moviegoers might find themselves feeling the film as episodic with an internal build to a climax rather than a more external and outwardly visual manufacture of events.

Certain scenes sometimes felt too ignorant even for the times, too.

While everyone knew what was really happening during the Holocaust but many were brainwashed into denying, ignoring or overlooking the mass genocide that was taking place right before their eyes, a naïveté by people who would have benefitted by turning Dillinger in sometimes felt forced and histrionic.

Despite such minor strikes and overlooking a yawn of a performance by Christian Bale, “Public Enemies” indeed stars two decisive characters among 2009’s best so far: Johnny Depp and the meticulously recreated environment that is the city of Chicago itself.

“Public Enemies” from director Michael Mann stars Johnny Depp, Christain Bale, Marion Cotillard, Leelee Sobieski, Giovanni Ribisi, Billy Crudup, Channing Tatum, James Russo, Stephen Dorff, Stephen Graham, Bill Camp, Chandler Williams, Branka Katic, Jason Clarke, Christian Stolte and David Wenham. The film, which was released nationwide on July 1, 2009, is rated “R” for gangster violence and some language with a 140-minute running time.

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief Adam Fendelman


© 2009 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com

I ♥Christian's picture

Stop dissin Christian!!!!!

WTF!!!!!!!!!!! Why can’t you morons just take one freakin break,just one freakin break from dissin Christian’s performances.Have you ever thought for just one freakin moment,that Purvis was supposed to have that kind of demeanor,low key? Yeah,you may call it monotonous,but listen to Johnny Depp,he’s the damn epitome of monotone.His voice goes only one level,a D flat.He’s uses the same voice in every movie,I never once here any of you Depp brown nosers say one freakin thing about it!!!! You’re so busy jumping in on the already enormous “pile up” of Christian Bale haters this year,that you didn’t even give props to Christian’s southern accent,damn,give the man credit for somethin!!!! I’d say that’s a mighty fine talent to have when you’re a Brit.Christian has an unbelievable ability to perfect any accent,and being an American myself,that’s a very honorable quality he possesses.The man does American better than Americans,and he has all my respect and admiration,despite your bad review of him.For weeks now,you and other critics have been relentless in your attacks on him,and it’s all stemming from one thing,”the rant”.So you and all these fly by night movie critics have decided that it’s Open Season on the Bale man!!!! Micheal Mann happens to like Christian,and he’s the one who directed the movie,this is how he wanted Purvis portrayed,and I say Christian does a mighty fine job of it!!!!

Fact: Recently,the surviving family of Melvin Purvis lamented much praise on Christian for his portrayal of there Father,saying:”Christian Bale played him to perfection,and that Christian had the accent down pat,as well as the mannerisms”,and added that,”he’s a great actor”.But nooooooooo,you refused to take that into consideration,cause you were armed and ready with the proverbial fly swatter to swat Christian down,no matter how good his performance.You know,I started not to comment on this crappy review,but I kind of felt sorry for you,seeing as how no one else bothered to comment,and being the nice,sympathetic person that I am,I wanted you to feel like all the time you spent writing this crap,was actually worth it,so I went ahead and took a stab at it.Consider yourself lucky dude.

IMO,Christian could have played Dillinger waaaaay better than Johnny,and he would have brought some real badassary to the role to boot,too bad.I don’t care what you or any other jealous critic says about Christian,he will always have my love and support,no matter what role he plays,cause imo,he can do anything,HE’S SIMPLY THE BEST!!!!!

Dash's picture

Agree Bale is the S**t

Bale is an excellent actor i agree with the Stop dissin Christian!!!!! review because you ADAM FENDELMAN are not taking into account he had the accent right, that is real talent, and also Alston Purvis who is Melvin Purvis son paised his performance by saying “Bale had my father’s mannerisms and accent down to the exact detail. He is a superb actor. He wanted to see my family home in South Carolina. We went to the cemetery to see my father’s grave, i guess reviewers dont take technicallity like the accent specially because he is a brit actor or the Alston Purvis commentary on Bale who knew he got the performance right, he knew his father more than anyone and said Bale was exactly like him.
ADAM FENDELMAN if you dont take this into account how can you review his prformance then just by telling he made you yawn, common man thats not fair Melvin Purvis son said thats the way his father was, he nailed it exactly like Melvin Purvis I guess you dont read this type news when you do a review. Purvis son is saying he nailed it exactly like his father. I dont know why critics are giving a rough time to Bale almost every critic on Public Enemies they dont even mention Bale.

NDSue's picture

It wasn’t the girlfriend,

It wasn’t the girlfriend, Billie, who attended the movie with him. She was in jail. It was the Rumanian madame who feared deportation - and who gave him up.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture


NDSue wrote:
It wasn’t the girlfriend, Billie, who attended the movie with him. She was in jail. It was the Rumanian madame who feared deportation - and who gave him up.

Correct. I’ve made that update above. Thanks!

Anonymous's picture


Depp’s deep, crazed, complicated and multi-dimensional portrayal of John Dillinger” - including Depp’s apparent interpretation that Dillinger was a coke addict (lots of sniffing and brushing his finger along his lips & teeth)and his insistence that Billie go along with his iconic fantasy of invincibility and their movie-star romance (“say you know I’m going to come & take care of you - say it” and “ain’t nobody gonna lay a glove on us - we’re too good for ‘em” and on and on).

James Petigru's picture

Christian Bale

Bale’s accent is the cookie cutter, non-existent, Hollywood drawl that has passed for a Southern twang for decades. If you want to hear a good southern accent, try Kyle Chandler in Friday Night Lights. Bale’s accent is the same as thousands of other actors—do they all go to the same Orange County coach?—who learned it from Colonel Sanders. Grotesque.

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