• The dialogue-free opening prison break at Michigan City is both a hell of a set piece to start the film, and an effective way to introduce Johnny Depp’s John Dillinger character. Public Enemies is a crime saga that starts in medias res, pitting cop (Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis) against thief just like Michael Mann’s magnum opus Heat.
  • Mann’s first time with long-time collaborator Dante Spinotti since The Insider (1999). Talented production designer Nathan Crowley (The Dark Knight, Inception, Dunkirk) does his best work outside of his collaborations with Christopher Nolan. I am sure Nolan made Crowley study Mann when making The Dark Knight and here he is working with him.
  • Michael Mann continues his experimentation with video. By 2009 much of the grain is gone (that line of prisoners at Michigan City in the opening is as crisp as it gets) but you still get the rough ugly shadow from time to time—especially in the interiors. With von Trier (another longtime experimenter in video) the shadows and some of the ugliness is intentional. With Mann—it is not.
  • After that wild introduction of Depp’s Dillinger, Mann sets up the gifted lawman to catch him with Bale’s Purvis on a manhunt catching Pretty Boy Floyd (a young Channing Tatum).
  • Billy Crudup has a few memorable scenes with that distinct accent as J. Edgar Hoover, but the entire ensemble cast is worth noting—typical of Mann’s work. If you blink you’ll miss talents like Carey Mulligan, Lili Taylor, Giovanni Ribisi, Bill Camp and others. Stephen Lang gets a nice little role as a hard-nosed Texas FBI agent (his first pairing with Mann since Manhunter I believe).

Whether it a triumph of location scouting or production design (or both)- the 1933-era banks and courthouses are a character in the film. In several occasions Mann’s low-angle camera allowed the detailed design of the ceiling to act as mise-en-scene.

There’s an especially nice frame in an old style movie house with Depp at a low-angle at the 74-minute mark.

an admirable repetition in show choice

  • Michael Mann’s trademark audio design and gunfire are here- the depression-era tommy guns are blaring. At the 93-minute mark Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) is just firing into the ground as he gets taking apart by a gun just after his stolen Ford rolls over. The Sioux Falls set piece and getaway in particular is sort of Public Enemies’ Heat bank heist scene.
  • Mann’s trademark close-ups—two of Bale in particular stand out. One at the 81-minute mark when he’s uncomfortable with the torture—and one at the 98-minute mark after Marion Cotillard’s Billie Frechette escapes.
  • Speaking of Cotillard—she is superb here- keeping her character from becoming a cliché. Billie is a real person. This is also a solid film for Depp and his career. He gives Dillinger a quiet confidence. That said, just like Mann’s accomplishment here, this is not going to go down as one of the best works from either star.
  • Mann does a great job of tying Clark Gable’s dialogue in Manhattan Melodrama to Dillinger near the end.
  • Recommend / Highly Recommend border