Director Michael Mann’s new historical gangster film, Public Enemies, debuts today in the States (though British moviegoers will have to wait until Friday to see it). But already, this picture starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, and Marion Cotillard has been hailed by Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek. In her review today, Zacharek writes:
“Public Enemies” is a folk song rendered in visual shards instead of notes, hopscotching through parts of the Midwest as it follows [John] Dillinger’s numerous bank robberies and evasions.You’ll find that full critique here.
Over and over again, he slips through the clutches of the awestruck [Melvin] Purvis, leaving the venerable G-man stroking his extra-square jaw, which further stokes the rage and determination of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover (played, with stylized hamminess, by Billy Crudup). Strict narrative clarity isn’t the picture’s strong suit: Time and again Mann--who co-wrote the script, along with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman, based on a book by Bryan Burrough--fails to introduce characters properly, allowing figures like Stephen Dorff’s Homer Van Meter, an associate of Dillinger’s, to drift on-screen so unceremoniously that we’re not always sure exactly who they are and what they’re doing there. ...
But what the picture lacks in clarity it makes up for in visual vitality. Words aren’t the strong suit of “Public Enemies”; instead, Mann lays out his vocabulary in the tilt of a fedora, or the easygoing manner in which Dillinger tucks a machine gun under his arm, or the way Marion Cotillard, as Dillinger’s lady love Billie Frechette, lounges in a bathtub, extending a glorious naked leg to caress its rim with her foot. The glamour quotient in “Public Enemies” is high, and in a landscape of contemporary movies in which “sophistication” is seemingly a dirty word, it’s a relief to see actors in period dress rather than outlandish Willy Wonka get-ups and superhero costumes.
Even the movie’s violence has a grown-up gloss: Mann doesn’t necessarily glorify Dillinger’s violence, but he is attuned to all the ways in which, in the movies, cruel acts can also have a brutal elegance.
READ MORE: “Review: Public Enemies,” by Jeffrey M. Anderson (Cinematical); “The Real John Dillinger,” by Elliott J. Gorn (Slate); “Famous Cases: John Dillinger” (U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation); “Dillinger (1973),” by Samuel Wilson (Mondo 70); and for the sake of comparison, here is the trailer for Dillinger.