The story of Robin Hood has always been appealing on tale. The idea of someone taking from the wealthy and giving to the poor does have a nice ring to it, especially in this current economy. Yet is it way he swoops in and steals the money? Or is Robin Hood himself that makes the tale interesting? These questions crossed my mind while watching Michael Mann's Public Enemies.
Set during the fourth year of the Great Depression, crime is on the rise and notorious bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is making a mockery of the law. Fed up with Dillinger's antics, the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), assigns agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to lead a task force to bring John Dillinger to justice once and for all. Purvis soon realizes that capturing Dillinger will be much harder than both he and Hoover had ever expected it to be. Dillinger shows no signs of slowing down nor does he have any weaknesses. Of course this may all change after he meets the Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).
Though he kept everything he stole Dillinger was still viewed as the Robin Hood of his time. Dillinger became a symbol for those suffering through the Great Depression . Yet the Depression merely serves as a backdrop for the film as Mann is more interested in the various ways Dillinger robbed banks and broke of jail. While these moments were very entertaining to watch, by time the film ended, I could not help but wonder how much did I actually learn about any of the parties involved? Clearly John Dillinger was a charismatic criminal who had the intelligence needed to get away with what he did. Yet after the jail break scene, and the scene were the cops pass him in the car, you have to question whether Dillinger truly was a genius? Or were the cops just really dumb?
Since Mann opts not to delve too deep into his characters we only get glimpses of what makes the characters tick. This is most evident when you look at Bale's Melvin Purvis, who really gets short changed in this picture. Purvis is clearly way over his head when he is promoted but we rarely see how the pursuit affects him emotionally. This ultimately diminishes the impact of what happens to him at the end of the film. Also, Mann does not provide Bale room to truly showcase his range. Purvis is a rather one-note character throughout the entire film. Despite Purvis' many errors and his inner turmoil, Mann portrays him mainly as the hard stoic agent. Bale would have been much more interesting in the film had he been able to show more of the cracks within Purvis' wall.
Aside the limitations set on Bale , the majority of the cast does a decent job of breathing life into their characters. Depp and Cotillard are the standouts in the picture as there scenes together offer a nice break from the standard cops and robber stuff. Despite the lack of depth, Mann does create a film that is, if nothing else, fairly entertaining. All the trademark Mann element's are there: the handheld video shots, the elaborate shootout sequences etc. Although Public Enemies is not as spectacular as I hoped it would be, it was entertaining enough for a mild recommendation.