Movie Review: Public Enemies

Movie Review: Public Enemies

Public Enemies


Rated R for ganster violence and some language
Running Time: 2 hours 23 minutes

In what’s described as an action-thriller, filmmaker Michael Mann directs Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard in the story of legendary Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger. Public Enemies looks at the life of the charismatic bank robber whose lightning raids made him the number one target of J. Edgar Hoover’s fledgling FBI and its top agent, Melvin Purvis. At the same time however, Dillinger was also a folk hero to many of the downtrodden public.

No one could stop Dillinger and his gang. No jail could hold him. His charm and audacious jailbreaks endeared him to almost everyone – from his girlfriend Billie Frechette, to an American public who had no sympathy for the banks that had plunged the country into the Depression.

A Folk Hero Come To Life On The Big Screen


Johnny Depp once again proves why he’s one of the best actors
in Hollywood these days.

It doesn’t matter if he’s playing the wild Captain Jack, Willie Wonka, or some other animated creation from the mind of Tim Burton – Depp is an amazingly versatile actor who’s presence simply captures the screen no matter what he’s doing. Johnny Depp transforms the character of John Dillinger into a multi-faceted look at the tormented life of the man known as Public Enemy #1 in the 1930’s. Then, when you place Depp side by side with Christian Bale who plays a great straight-face and serious FBI agent, you simply have a winning on screen combination of talent. But, just in case that’s not enough, toss in Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard as Dillinger’s love interest, and it just doesn’t get much better.

Over all, Public Enemies is a fascinating journey looking at the escapades of John Dillinger and his gang in 1933. However, it’s also worth noting that Public Enemies is not an attempt to glamorize the life of Dillinger. If anything, this is a peak behind the scenes looking at what pushed him into his life of crime. One scene clearly explains what made Dillinger the person he was. After a somewhat violent coat check scene, Dillinger explains to his girlfriend that he is the way he is because his “mother died” when he was young and the only way his dad knew how to raise him, was to “beat him”.

Public Enemies picks the storyline of John Dillinger up at the tail end of what could be called his glory days of bank robbing. As Dillinger watches his friends die one by one, he falls in with the sociopathic Baby Face Nelson. His later days, while trying to remain untouchable, turned tragic. Also woven into the fabric of this movie is the story of the early days of the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover was looking for a way to elevate his Bureau of Investigation into the national police force that became the FBI. In the face of doubting Judges who challenged his expertise, Hoover made Dillinger America’s first Public Enemy Number One and sent Agent Purvis to catch him in Chicago.

Great Movie – With Few Issues

While there’s much to like about this movie, there are some issues along the way too. Over all, we really like the simplicity of film technique in Public Enemies. That’s not to say this is a poorly done movie. Quite the contrary. It’s the simplicity and at times graininess of film quality that adds to the genius of Michael Mann. We applaud him for not going overboard with special effects and trying to tart up the wild car chases and incredible shootout scenes. On top of film technique, if you watch closely, you may even notice some cut ins of what just might be original film footage of when Dillinger was arrested and transferred to Indiana. Mann does another cool trick with film footage from a Clark Gable movie too! Watch for the technique, as it’s the little things like this, that make for a truly great film production.

However, even though we applaud the filmmakers for technique, Public Enemies clocks in at close to 2 and a half hours. While it would be hard to cut much out of the film, there are times when it’s a little on the slow side. Also, if you’re looking for a movie that’s going to leap off the screen with dynamic action all the time, you will not find that in Public Enemies. This is really more of a thinking movie, than a turn your mind off movie.

A Soft R Rated Movie

As for the rating, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect since Public Enemies is Rated R. The warning says for gangster violence and some language. But, we really wondered if it would be some language, or a lot of language. Too often filmmakers miss the mark when making era sensitive flicks. Instead of keeping the language time sensitive, they think they’re making an era-sensitive movie, with modern day language.

We went into the movie wondering if it would be filled with
curse words and f-bombs.

If those involved with Public Enemies stooped to that language low, we would have been very disappointed. We’re happy to report, they did not. I think the f-bomb was dropped just once. And even then, it was said low enough that it was barely audible. While there was some harsher language tossed in along the way, over-all, nothing seemed out of place.

So, why the R rating? That’s because the MPAA really has no idea how to rate movies. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – The MPAA is nothing more than an out of date, out of touch concept, ruled by people who can be bought – In the end, the MPAA really have no clue what to do when it comes to ratings. If a filmmaker ponies up enough pressure and money, they can get whatever rating they want.

Public Enemies is once again a prime example of the need for a Adult 17 movie rating. While this is far from a PG-13, a mature crowd of even 16 and up, could see Public Enemies with no problems at all. The warning says Rated R for gangster violence. But, aside from a couple close ups of what happens when a bullet goes through you and the resulting blood, there’s nothing any more violent here than some of what you can see on TV during prime time. Then, on top of that, while there is one bathtub scene, there is little to no nudity! Even the bathtub scene is shot with class and nothing is seen that shouldn’t be seen. We’ve seen more nudity in PG-13 movies that leave our head shaking than what’s in Public Enemies. Again, we applaud the filmmakers for this, while at the same time say boo to the MPAA people who need to look hard and close at what they’re doing.

With that in mind, Public Enemies is not family-friendly.

But, we are saying it’s a soft R. If you’re looking for our opinion for age appropriate and determining what a 16 up crowd should see. As parents, our 16 year old wants to see the R rated Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino. As parents, we believe that movie is not appropriate for him. Gran Torino is Rated R for a reason. It is a violent movie. However, our son also wants to see Public Enemies. Personally, I would have no issues or problems with taking him to see the movie. Keep in mind though, I said “I” would take him.

In other words, parents, go to the movie with your 16 and up age group kids if they really want to see Public Enemies.

Enjoy the show!
Dr. Rus

About the Author

Dr. Rus has 30+ years experience in the field of communication. He takes this experience, and his passion to encourage others to positively effect their environment, when providing insight and movie reviews.