With the announcement of the Oscars increasing the Best Picture nominees to 10, more deserving films will get exposure regardless of the outcome. Public Enemies will be one of those on the list for the March 7, 2010 Oscars, in my opinion. Not only was it well cast, with Johnny Depp as Dillinger, Christian Bale as Purvis, and Marion Cotillard as Billie, the action and drama were well paced together in the 1930s backdrop of fancy cars, machine guns, and elegantly designed banks.
Although John Dillinger is the outlaw, you tend to side with him as the story unfolds after his release from prison after nine years. Johnny Depp portrays him as the charmer he purportedly was but always aware of his own fate; he boldly tempts it with no fear. Steadfast and determined, his vulnerability is exposed only in his relationship with Billie Frechette. Marion Cotillard’s compassionate and loyal portrayal of Dillinger’s girlfriend provides the dramatic backdrop for the explosive machine gun barrages and fierce manhunt scenes; she simply shines in sweetness and sensuality in the midst of chaos. The film takes a little bit of leeway (especially in the ending) in the storytelling, as do most films based on actual events. Yet it’s cohesive and the end result is one that makes you care for characters that you probably wouldn’t in real life (in the Gangster Era ‘30s, that is).
Christian Bale as FBI agent Purvis provides the level-headed stoic leadership in the manhunt for Dillinger and his group of gangsters. The task force isn’t infallible; they’re flawed, inexperienced, and even idiotic. Purvis balances them with humanity and focus. One of the endearing scenes in the film involves his compassionate interaction with Billie at the field office. At times you get the feeling that Purvis doesn’t want Dillinger to come to the ultimate end but can’t control the outcome of events that follow. He seems almost enthralled by the man he has the duty to capture and bring to justice.
Overall the film is visually entertaining in its display of actors, historical setting, and action sequences. It keeps you on a suspenseful thrill ride that you don’t want to get off even through the end. Machine gun battles, car chase scenes with men hanging from the sides, and great period costuming, from Billie’s “$3 dress” to Purvis’ fitted tailoring, give this film authenticity for the era. It’s reminiscent of Bonnie & Clyde, only higher in class and Bonnie isn’t toting a machine gun or robbing banks because the rest of the gang is doing it. Character appearances by Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff, David Wenham, Channing Tatum, Leelee Sobieski, and Lili Taylor also add to this exciting cast ensemble.
This one will definitely end up in my dvd collection.