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Review: Public Enemies

A man of his environment, John Dillinger never made qualms about what he did. In an age where banks have proven to be inseparable from a healthy economy, I think John Dillinger would fit in quite well again as a Robin Hood looking for his King John in modern, mega-banks. The heyday of the gangster was itching for a comeback in this age and the man best fit to tell that story is Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice).

Johnny Depp, known for taking role as eccentric outsiders brings it back in the wheelhouse and completely becomes John Dillinger. Living the high life and having no reason to think about tomorrow you really believe that Dillinger never thought he was going to be caught.

Marion Cotillard, little known French actress should expect an Academy Award nomination come next year. Mann always writes powerful roles for women and Public Enemies is no different. Christian Bale tones down for this one playing Melvin Purvis, less anger, but far more intensity. Each time Purvis sees a life taken by the hands of Baby Face Nelson you die a little on the inside yourself.

Enemies plays out like a tragedy as we are introduced to Dillinger at that top of his game and the whole world knows him. But like any other film a tragedy doesn’t play out unless you care about the fall of the protagonist and Depp rivets. Some have criticized Enemies for not going deep into who Dillinger was, but what Depp did with Dillinger was who he was. Public Enemies doesn't presume to tell you about the man and the motivations, he just shows Dillinger and the decisions he made. Bad biopics tell you about the characters and the films suffer for it, Mann doesn't make that mistake.

Michael Mann scores another hit with Public Enemies and I’m going to go ahead and say this is one to beat for Best Picture of the Year. The social-politics of it may offend some, but the cinematic splendor of this is not to be missed. Mann’s use of HD makes for some of the most intimate shots to date. You feel like you are tagging along with Dillinger and his gang the entire time. The action is a little shaky during the gunfight in the woods, but beyond that everything looked excellent.

The story is compelling, the acting is exceptional and Mann keeps it tight and never lets the film dawdle.

***1/2 out of ****

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