Home Movies: Johnny Gets His Gun as America's Smoothest Criminal in ‘Public Enemies’


Though faithful to Bryan Burrough’s painstakingly researched book about the epic manhunt for notorious bank robber John Dillinger, Michael Mann’s Public Enemies offers more an abstract impression of the man than a fully satisfying portrait.

There was a time when outlaws like Dillinger were romanticized as folk heroes, famous for brazenly resisting authority. It’s a phenomenon Public Enemies documents but never seeks to explain. As played by Johnny Depp, Dillinger is the epitome of cool: He’s suave and seductive, as graceful knocking over banks as he is wooing coat-check girls. He’s charming and true to his word, but that alone does not account for his celebrity, and neither does Mann’s screenplay.

No stranger to cops, robbers and the games they play, Mann (Miami Vice, Heat) fails to develop compelling parallels between Dillinger and Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent handpicked by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) to capture America’s most wanted criminal and flaunt him before the press. Purvis, in whom Christian Bale invests more intensity than personality, is a vigilant boy scout, conflicted by his dedication to duty and his distaste for the savagery the job requires.

Dillinger, who seems annoyed by his trigger-happy peers but rarely shies away from a gunfight when provoked, is a different breed. Embittered by a lengthy prison stay for robbing a grocery store, he’s a rebel with a cause: stealing enough money to live the high life in the midst of the Great Depression, lawmen be damned.

Blessed with a quick wit and dashing good looks – Depp is helpful in this department – Dillinger is rarely hurting for female companionship, though his fiercest passions are reserved for Billie (Marion Cotillard, the Oscar-winning star of La Vie en Rose), who is drawn to his purposeful gaze and promises of undying loyalty.

On that count, he’s not exaggerating. If Public Enemies teaches us anything about Dillinger, it is that he was undone, at least in part, by his refusal to abandon friends, lovers and colleagues, even those like Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham), whom he could barely tolerate. Otherwise, insights are scarce.

Unlike Andrew Dominik’s superior The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Public Enemies is not a cerebral meditation on the life of its subject. It is grim but arresting, snapshots of a hard life strung together by shootouts and heists, all captured with remarkable precision in high-definition digital. On that level, it works. Depp, stone-faced throughout, makes the most of an underwritten role, and Dante Spinotti’s cinematography is impressive.

But Public Enemies could have been much more. This is not Mann’s Bonnie and Clyde – it’s tense, but lacking in feeling. Dillinger’s story is entertaining enough, but the movie, like the man, resists deeper understanding.

EXTRAS include Mann's behind-the-scenes documentary and illuminating historical pieces on Dillinger and his big-screen legacy. Available on DVD and Blu-ray, Public Enemies benefits from seamless transfers in both formats.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

While there may never be a Harry Potter adaptation capable of totally satisfying hardcore fans, The Half-Blood Prince comes close: It is smart and beautifully shot, a rousing cinematic achievement that should leave readers of J. K. Rowling’s novels more excited than ever for next year’s two-part finale, The Deathly Hallows.

With the conclusion of Harry’s quest so close at hand, there are no great payoffs here, but that takes nothing away from the latest installment, which is the best Potter movie yet. It is moody and satisfyingly atmospheric, made as much for adults as for the children who happily devoured Rowling’s books. Better yet, it finds BBC veteran David Yates devoting more time to Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), a character woefully underdeveloped in past installments but wonderfully realized here.

Snape is an enigma – his allegiances are always in question – and Rickman, the fine actor who toyed with Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard, makes him deliciously inscrutable. He remains the most intriguing player in Harry’s hectic universe, but he’s not alone: Daniel Radcliffe, who began the series as a fresh-faced boy but has matured into a formidable grown-up actor, is particularly effective here, giving emphasis to Harry’s powerful sense of purpose.

EXTRAS: Can't wait till November for part one of The Deathly Hallows? Get an exclusive sneak peek on the two-disc DVD or Blu-ray editions of Half-Blood Prince. Also included are deleted scenes and a revealing documentary on a year in the life of former welfare recipient turned bestselling author Rowling.


It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas

Truth be told, I've never been a fan of Always Sunny, the hit-or-miss FX comedy series starring Rob McElhenney, Kaitlin Olson, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton and Danny DeVito. At their most cheerfully deranged, the gang achieves new lows of depravity; in leaner times, they rely too heavily on in-jokes and labored gags. Happily, A Very Sunny Christmas finds them at their sharpest – firing on all cylinders and proving, with typically twisted glee, that no target is sacred. If you're searching for the meaning of Christmas, you won't find it here, but as seasonal offerings go, it's an instant, offbeat classic. EXTRAS include a hastily thrown-together making-of featurette and deleted scenes that feel like an afterthought.



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