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Wed June 24, 2009
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time," "Cinema Classics," and "On the Marquee"
"They ain't tough enough, smart enough or fast enough. I can hit any bank I want, any time. They got to be at every bank, all the time." John Dillinger (Johnny Depp)
Yes, they were "smart enough." Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), J. Edgar Hoover's (Billy Crudup) chosen agent to find Dillinger, uses his smarts to get associates to rat on him, and some "tough" heavy artillery to bring down the pop culture hero.
Johnny Depp in Public Enemies is about as distant from an Oscar playing gangster Dillinger as he could get playing a pirate: He underplays one of the most infamous bank robbers of the Depression as if director Michael Mann told him to hide while the feds were tracking him for spilling milk.
Although other attempts to portray this rogue in film and TV have fallen short as well, you'd think the director of Manhunter, Heat, and The Insider could come up with a more exciting rendition because Tommy guns just don't an interesting movie make anymore.
Saving the film from complete boredom is the relationship between Dillinger and his love, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), because both actors are capable of subtlety: The characters dance around each other, especially Billie, who is reluctant to hitch up with a "most wanted" guy. Although Depp never shows much emotion, Cotillard makes a fine reluctant lover, developing her love to the point of a devotion that happily endangers her with the feds. As for Mann, he has always peopled his films with difficult, frustrating loves, in a sense saving himself from being compared to Michael Bay.
"He could be the man sat next to you!" So says the announcer about Dillinger on the 1930's movie screen as he uncomfortably tries not to be noticed. He should have paid attention to his nerves: A movie house will be his undoing. Meanwhile, our theaters will be undone with weak ticket sales; he's still robbing the establishment.
To give Depp his due, he has the best line of the movie; we just can't hear it. We wuz robbed.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, Cinema Classics, and On the Marquee, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com