Rated R for gangster violence and some language, 140 minutes
Those legions of Johnny Depp fans will be pleased to know that he and his earnest new film about John Dillinger, "Public Enemies" deliver some compelling, entertaining moments. What's really surprising is that it's remarkably conventional and subdued given the source and the magnetic leads, Depp and co-star Christian Bale and director Michael Mann, of "Miami Vice" and "Ali." "Public Enemies" brings with it some of Mann's flaws: heavily styled, colorful visuals and an overlong, meandering pace, but the story is well-told and superbly acted.
"Public Enemies" is based on the Bryan Burroughs book "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI 1933-34" and essentially tells two stories: Dillinger's crime wave and then the pursuit of Dillinger, led by FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Bale). As the FBI organizes itself to seriously fight crime, it transforms itself from a largely powerless organization led by a publicity-seeking tyrant J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). They find themselves defeated at every turn by Dillinger and his men, who eventually team up with another gangster, Baby Face Nelson (played by Stephen Graham here) to become wealthy robbing banks. But Purvis and his men gather strength when they find some real Southern sharp shooters (from Texas, no less) to help bring Dillinger and his gang down.
Of course, Depp makes the most watchable Dillinger seen on film, infusing a unique likability and humaness with a crime figure not seen since "Bonnie & Clyde." His romance with Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (another affecting performance) as one of Dillinger's real girlfriends gives the film some romantic buoyancy away from all the shoot-and-steal scenes. Best moment: Dillinger strolls into the Chicago Police Department unnoticed and catches the cops assigned to him listening to a baseball game.
Mann makes some cinematic alterations to "Public Enemies" fact-based story as well, including the familiar climax in which Dillinger is brought down, an anti-climactic moment that could've used more force and dramatic resonance, which could really be said of the movie itself. (It also doesn't make the FBI look good, who made some missteps along the way but were ultimately successful.)
"Public Enemies," in spite of its flaws (it's also about 20 minutes too long), has more to like about it than not. It's an entertaining but conventional, low-key look at how the FBI brought John Dillinger to justice, and of course it also stars the always fascinating Johnny Depp in another compelling performance. "Public Enemies" is an unusual, serious choice for a summer movie among loud robots and special-effects, but adults can now appreciate a movie geared for them.