By CAINE GARDNER
13 months. That's all it took to make a young man from Mooresville, Ind. into a legend. John Dillinger's 13-month bank robbing spree frustrated authorities and sparked the imagination of a nation.
Director Michael Mann and a stunning cast of superb actors, led by Johnny Depp, bring the story of Dillinger to life.
Reportedly part outlaw and part saint, Dillinger's (Depp) exploits in the mid 1930s captured the attention of a country in the midst of the Great Depression and gave them the antihero they yearned for.
Mann's Public Enemies is the latest resurrection of the Depression-era Robin Hood. In addition to Depp, Mann enlists a who's who of acting talent and brings a story that is brutal, brilliant and blatantly brazen.
Enemies literally starts with a bang, then settles into a deliberately slow-paced tale that only Mann has the mastery to weave. We meet Dillinger at the beginning of this crime wave and the height of his prowess. We are spectators to the arrogance and haughtiness in which he antagonized law enforcement and the tenderness and devotion he displayed for Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).
The film depicts Dillinger from May 1933 to July 1934 doing what he did best -- robbing banks. Mann, and especially Depp, embrace this fact and run with it. Rarely does the film gloss over the fact that he was constantly on the run and wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger when necessary.
Only Depp has the swagger worthy of the Dillinger. Remarkably, Depp continues to grow as an actor and his understated performance in Public Enemies is a wonderful reminder of that. One scene in particular, when Dillinger and Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) meet for the first time, is a case study in what makes Johnny Depp so good.
With his face obscured by shadow, Depp plays a significant portion of the scenes with only his eyes clearly visible and commands the scene. The steely gaze he lands on Purvis is enough to make your blood run cold.
As the movie plods towards its predictable finale, we see Dillinger realize that the only world he's ever known is collapsing around him. His face is plastered everywhere, friends are turning away, G-men are crawling all over the area and the woman he loves is rounded up in an attempt to bring him to justice.
Cotillard is magnificent as Billie. She shows herself as an actress who can hold her own among some of the best talent going today. The chemistry she and Depp exhibit as the doomed lovers is powerful and moving. It's not often that you see people weeping during a gangster flick, but there were not that a few teary eyes looking up at the glare of the silver screen.
Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover is equally impressive. Crudup makes the most of his limited time on screen and is more than believable in the role.
I believe that the toughest acting job in the film belonged to Bale as Purvis. Purvis essentially had the weight of the newly formed FBI thrust onto his shoulders, with the future of the organization depending on his capture of Public Enemy No. 1. Although his performance is somewhat still, Bale captures the uncertainty and eagerness that Purvis certainly must have felt.
The film is shot in tight, handheld angles that lend a sense of realism and immediacy. You'll squint to see, your pulse will quicken and your breathing will become shallow. When a movie gets you that involved, you know it's something special.
Final Cut: Depp is pitch perfect as Dillinger. The crooked smile, the charisma, the swagger -- it's all there. Mann once again proves that he is a giant among men and brings to life one of the most notorious men of the 20th century with ease.
4 out of 5 stars
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup
Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett, Ann Biderman (Screenplay), Bryan Burrough (Source Material)
In Theaters now