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Rediff.com  » Movies » Public Enemies: Riveting

Public Enemies: Riveting

By Arthur J Pais
June 30, 2009 15:01 IST
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Come Wednesday, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen -- which has grabbed a jaw-dropping $420 million worldwide in less than two weeks -- could still be ruling the box office in the US, and the new film, Ice Age 3 drawing millions of young audiences.

But those craving for a different kind of entertainment than the one in special effects driven films find plenty to cheer in Public Enemies, a leisurely but riveting retelling of the real life story of John Dillinger, the charming bank robber leader who became a national phenomenon in America in the 1930s.

For most part, it is the story of two men: Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) the government agent hell bent in capturing him. But there is also a touching love story, and though the director Michael Mann (Heat, Miami Vice) doesn't do full justice to it, there are quite a few charming and moving scenes between Dillinger and a coat check girl (Marion Cottilard, the Oscar winning actress of La Vie En Rose), who joins him after a haughty exchange of words.

Having seen her astounding performance as the tragic French singer Edith Piaf in La Vie, one feels a bit cheated that she doesn't have much to do in the new film. Mann, who delves deeper into his characters' psychology than in his previous film Miami Vice, does not show well why she falls for Dillinger.

Public Enemies may not soar at the box office like films like Star Trek and Up have done. But it could have a decent run, appealing to filmgoers who are tired of amazing machines and superheroes.

A scene from Public EnemiesThough over a dozen movies and television shows have been made on Dillinger, the new film holds attention not only to the first time viewers of the Dillinger legend but also those who have seen the past films. Not to forget the fans of the admirable gangster dramas such as Bonnie and Clyde.

The presence of Depp and Bale should draw plenty of fans to US theatres on Wednesday, and the movie could be running for a long time, without smashing the records.

Mann has not only extracted solid performances from his lead players but has also filled the screen with tension (despite taking his time to do so) and a number of spectacular action scenes.

There is also plenty of humour and good dialogue in the film.

Dillinger, who became a folk hero in the Depression era because he was robbing the much-despised banker, for instance asks at a  bank: That's your money, mister?
Bank Teller: [nervously] Yes.

Dillinger: We're here for the bank's money, not yours. Put it away.

A scene from Public EnemiesWhen Purvin meets the gangster who has been arrested, he says: The only way you're walking out of this jail cell is when we take you out to execute you.
Dillinger says casually: Well, we'll see about that.

Depp is mesmerizing throughout the film. Though he plays a flashy bank robber leader, he gives a very nuanced performance quite different from his work in Pirates Of The Caribbean series. Bale shows his ethical dilemmas well when he discovers that his officers and he would have to cross moral lines to apprehend wrongdoers.

The film could have a good and profitable run proving once again that the summer movie scene is not confined to adrenaline-pumping popcorn films. See the film in the theatres, and six months later, get ready to see it on DVD and admire it even more.

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Arthur J Pais