"Public Enemies" once again sees Michael Mann exploring the mindset of those who find their way into darkness (or those who are already comfortable and have set-up shop there), such as he did in "Miami Vice" and "Heat". The film stars Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, who breaks out of prison with other members of his gang in a daring daylight sprint as the movie opens.
The movie then follows Dillinger and his gang - including Charles Makley (Christian Stolte) and Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff) - as they take up where they left off, heading out across the Midwest and robbing one bank after another with relative ease. However, there is a new push to stop organized crime and when the country's first "war on crime" is declared, FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) - the head of the Chicago Office - sets his sights on public enemy #1: Dillinger.
The remainder of the film is largely a cat-and-mouse game between the cop and Dillinger's gang, with a side trip that explores the relationship between himself and Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), a woman he spots while out one night and quietly, subtly sweeps off her feet. She finds protection in Dillinger and he finds warmth in an otherwise cold world.
The picture may not be densely plotted, but has a certain sober, chilly view of Dillinger's reality that makes it rather fascinating. The film is brutal, cold and calculating - a good deal of time is spent on the smaller details - the plans (while talking in a movie theater about another job, a newsreel announces Dillinger's wanted status and asks the audience look to their right and left, much to Dillinger's dismay), the dealing and what made the bold, confident Dillinger (who, in one scene, walks directly into the police station and wanders around, unnoticed) tick.
Still, while this is a masterful film in terms of Mann's ability to create atmosphere and mood and Depp's performance is terrific, there's a few concerns that I couldn't get past. The film is focused almost entirely on Dillinger, and while Depp does give a fantastic performance, other characters - such as Dillinger's men - are not given much detail. Additionally, Cotillard offers a superb performance (and is matched perfectly with Depp), but her character is unfortunately gone for a long stretch of the film.
Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti once again show that they have mastered filming in HD; the film offers some powerful visuals, and the the HD video gives the film's shadowy night sequences a haunting, chilly feel. Elliot Goldenthal's score is also magnificent, as is the film's production design, art direction and costume design work. While Mann's ultra-sleek modern films like "Vice" have always looked splendid, the director's attempt at filming a period flick is a tremendous success in the visual department.
"Public Enemies" could have given more depth to some of the characters, but this is otherwise a compelling crime drama with an excellent performance from Depp.
VIDEO: "Public Enemies" is presented by Universal in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and the results are quite good. The movie was filmed on HD video, and occasionally does have a slight HD video appearance. While sharpness and detail could be a tad iffy in some of the night sequences, most scenes remained crisp and clear - brighter, outdoor scenes looked quite sharp and smooth. No edge enhancement or print flaws were seen, and colors seemed spot-on, looking earthy and subdued.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is excellent, offering powerful and effective use of the surrounds during the intense action sequences. Audio quality was terrific, with punchy, well-recorded effects and clear, natural dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director Michael Mann offers a commentary for the film. The commentary is - not surprisingly - a marvelous track from the director, offering a fascinating discussion of nearly every aspect of the picture. We learn more about high-def filming, historical details, filming on-location and quite a bit more. There are a few moments of silence scattered throughout the track, but Mann keeps the chat going for a good deal of the running time.
"Larger Than Life: Adversaries" is a 10-minute documentary on the rivalry between Purvis and Dillinger.
Final Thoughts: "Public Enemies" could have given more depth to some of the characters, but this is otherwise a compelling crime drama with an excellent performance from Depp. The DVD edition offers very good audio/video quality and a couple of supplemental features. Recommended.
The Film B+