Public Enemies Movie Review


I’m never happy when a movie glorifies a criminal, but I really enjoyed Public Enemies, the story of bank robber John Dillinger played by Johnny Depp. Of course in true Johnny Depp form, he rocked the part of Dillinger, causing the audience to fall instantly and madly in love with him. Even so, while I sympathized with his character, I never for a moment forgot that he was indeed a criminal.

Depp portrays Dillinger as a man who lived by his own moral code. Fraught with contradiction he robbed banks, but didn’t take money from the pockets of the customers. He terrified bank employee’s, taking them hostage at gun point, yet offered a coat to a woman hostage who was cold. Above all, he hated the institution of government and felt entitled to steal government money.

An interesting side story that runs throughout the movie is the foundation of the FBI. Up until this time, no government agency existed that had the power to cross state jurisdiction lines. Catching and prosecuting criminals was very difficult and the case is made for starting the FBI. Of course being from Texas, I was excited when they opted to invite highly trained specialists from Texas to join the force of “G-men” because none of the Chicago guys could cut it in the field. While historically interesting, I have to agree with my friend Stephanie who said the investigative police work in the movie is confusing. In fact, I would take it a step further and say it is almost non-existent. Throughout the entire movie the “G-men” just seem to show up on the scene. Where did they get their information? How did they know where to find him? What was the logical process and time line of the investigation? I still don’t know.

Woven throughout the movie is the interaction of notable historical figures such as Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and J. Edgar Hoover. I especially enjoyed the appearance of one of my favorite actors Giovanni Ribisi who played Alvin Karpis. It wasn’t a big part but it was such a grown up, mature role and Ribisi did a great job.

If you will indulge me a moment, I would like to set aside the morality of the character and the man he represents and discuss what I felt to be a thought-provoking theme that ran throughout the movie. Hope. There is a touching scene when Dillinger takes his new girlfriend Billy to a very fancy restaurant for dinner. Everyone is staring at her and she comments to Dillinger “They aren’t used to seeing someone in here with a $3 dress.” To which Dillinger replies “That’s because they are all about where people come from instead of where they are going”. However misplaced, the most compelling part of Depp’s character was his ability to keep hope and optimism that a better day was waiting for him around the corner. There was a part of me that hoped he would find it. That hoped for a moment that he would make a good decision and leave the life of crime and run away to a new country and start a new life.

Unfortunately his optimism and mis-placed belief that the public loved him was not enough to overcome Dillingers poor decisions, faulty logic and bad company. A life spent running and hiding was as good as it ever got and in the end he was betrayed by a friend.

Don’t see this movie if you are looking for a modern day, blood and guts, action packed gangster movie. This isn’t it. Do see it if you enjoy the exploration of a character. This movie definitely has a softer side. That being said, there is still too much violence for me to recommend it for kids.

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Filed under Gangster Movie, Giovanni Ribisi, John Dillinger, Johnny Depp, Movie Review, Public Enemies

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