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Public Enemies (Blu-ray Review)

4 Dec, 2009 By: John Latchem

Public Enemies

Street 12/8/09
Box Office $97.1 million
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 two-DVD set, $36.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for gangster violence and some language.
Stars Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Steven Dorff, Stephen Lang, Channing Tatum, Emilie de Ravin, Giovanni Ribisi.

The 1930s was a golden age of crime, with the likes of Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde captivating the public with tales of their daring heists. Often better equipped than the law enforcement officials tasked with capturing them, these “public enemies” inspired new techniques in crime-fighting, paving the way for J. Edgar Hoover to create the FBI, which in many respects would become as ruthless as the criminals it hunted.

The era of this transition became the subject of a book by Bryan Burrough, and inspired director Michael Mann to make Public Enemies, which chronicles the FBI’s crusade to bring down Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger (played Johnny Depp).

As a gangster-style shoot-em-up, Public Enemies covers all the bases. Blood spills and bullets fly.

But instead of the story of the FBI, Mann seems more interested in re-creating his 1995 crime epic Heat in a 1930s setting. Depp is very good as Dillinger, but I might have liked to have seen a film centered on Billy Crudup’s fascinating portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover.

Admitting that he finds Hoover politically distasteful, Mann focuses on glorifying the crime sprees of Dillinger. Countless featurettes are devoted to anecdotes of locating various artifacts owned by Dillinger. Depp even claims to have tried on the pants Dillinger was wearing when he was shot.

Christian Bale plays special agent Melvin Purvis, who kind of bumbles through his attempts to catch Dillinger until the notorious bank robber is famously shot outside a theater in Chicago.

Mann is nothing if not meticulous in detail and shot much of the film at the actual locations frequented by Dillinger, including the jail in Indiana where he escaped using a fake gun carved from wood.

However, Mann seems to have fallen too much in love with the source material, and something is lost in the translation. Beyond the personal battle between Dillinger and Purvis, the rest of the film is populated with seemingly anonymous characters who are actually important historical figures, but they are around only to serve the plot when needed. The result is a film that is merely good when it could have been great.

The degree to which the extras flesh out the contrast between criminal and crimefighter in many ways make them more interesting than the movie. Mann also provides a good commentary during which he narrates some of the historical truths of the scenes as they play out.

The Blu-ray version also includes a BD Live gangster movie quiz that tests viewers’ knowledge of such films as American Gangster, Scarface and Carlito’s Way, all of which also happen to be on disc from Universal.

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