Spoiler Warning


Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Public Enemies


What Happens?

The film opens with text telling us "It is the fourth year of the great depression. For John Dillinger, Alvin Karpis and Baby Face Nelson it is the golden age of bank robbery..." We then see prisoners in uniform being marched inside at "Indiana State Penitentiary, Michigan City, Indiana."

Outside, we see a policeman arriving with John Dillinger(Johnny Depp) in custody. Dillinger is still dressed in nice civilian clothes. The cop and Dillinger are buzzed into the prison. We see other prisoners working at sewing machine stations. One of them, Walter Dietrich (James Russo) opens a supply box, and passes another prisoner a pistol, carefully concealed beneath other items.Other pistols are covertly handed out amongst a small group. They assault the  guards watching them, holding the guns to their heads.
Dillinger is inside the prison now. One of the guards remarks that he knows Dillinger as he just got paroled. He remembers Dillinger's name and Dillinger remarks "That's right. My friends call me John, but a son of a bitch screw like you better address me as Mr. Dillinger. Dillinger then shakes of his cuffs and produced a big gun from his coat. The cop escorting him actually his associate, John "Red" Hamilton, (Jason Clarke) pulls out a shotgun, holds it pointed at a guard and demands the last door be opened. The inmates, Walter Dietrich, Harry Pierpont, (David Wenham) Charles Makley, (Christian Stolte) Ed Shouse (Michael Vieau,) Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff)with guards at gunpoint, make their way to Dillinger's location. Walter sees Dillinger and says "We did it kid!" Red leaves to get the car while the inmates take clothes from the guards. Shouse gets angry with a guard and hits him in the face repeatedly, beating him to death for "eyeballing him." Dillinger yells at Shouse to stop, but  not before another guard uses the distraction to attempt to grab a pistol, forcing Homer to shoot him (alerting the other guards)
Dillinger and his crew leave the prison, when the alarm goes off. Dillinger fires back at the guard tower on their way out, but Walter is hit as they flee and again just before the car starts moving. Dillinger has a grip on Walter's arm and holds on, pulling him next to the car until the wound kills him and he lets go. Dillinger then puts his gun in Shouse's face and tells him it's his fault that Walter is dead. Shouse claims the guard wouldn't listen. Dillinger asks his crew for their opinions but they all defer to him. Dillinger hits SHouse in the face and throws him from the moving car.The crew stops at a nearby farm to hide out. When they're ready to go the woman who lives there, asks Dillinger to take her along, but he tells her he can't. Dillinger soon decides "Let's head to Chicago, make some money."

We then move to Bureau of Investigation Agent Melvin Purvis, (Christian Bale) who along with other agents and police pursues Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) through an orchard. Purvis stops chasing him and lets him run while aiming with his rifle. Purvis fires and drops Floyd before approaching him and telling him he's under arrest. Purvis asks about Floyd's friend Harry Campbell, but Floyd answers "I believe you've killed me, so you can go rot in hell." just before dying.
Dillinger and his crew head to a friendly brothel in East Chicago, run by Ana Sage (Branka Katic) where they get themselves equipped for robbing banks, making phone calls, modifying guns and buying modified cars. Dillinger also pays off a cop, Marty Zarkovich (John Michael Bolger) who assures him of safe haven in East Chicago. They quickly get back to work. Dillinger grabs a bank president and forces him to give access to the safe deposit boxes. When the president is slow, Dillinger says "You can either be a dead hero or a live coward. Get it open." The police respond to the robbery while they're inside causing Van Meter, who's playing lookout just outside the bank to assault an officer and fire at the others approaching, holding them off. Dillinger and his crew in the bank head for the doors. Dillinger notices a man has emptied his pockets for them, but he says "Put it away. I'm not here for your money. I'm here for the bank's money." He then tells a woman in the bank to come with them.each of the men exits the bank holding women in front of them. Once satisfied that they've evaded the cops they release the hostages.
We find J. Edgar Hoover in a hearing trying to request more funding for a federal bureau to pursue criminals who use state lines to evade capture. His request is denied by a Senator McKellar, due to Hoover's lack of personal field experience catching criminals. Hoover claims that he is only an administrator, but it doesn't affect the decision. Leaving the hearing Hoover says "McKellar is a Neanderthal and he is on a personal vendetta to destroy me. We will not contest him in this committee room. We will fight him on the front page. Where is John Dillinger?" Hoover then finds Agent Purvis waiting for him. Hoover congratulates Purvis on catching Pretty Boy Floyd. He then promotes Purvis to "Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Office." Purvis quickly accepts. and they head to a press conference where Hoover declares a "War on Crime" and announces that Purvis will be in charge of the Chicago office, referring to Chicago as "the center of the crime wave sweeping America." He adds that Purvis' task will be to get Dillinger. He then asks Purvis to say a few words.

Purvis: Nevertheless, we will get him.
Reporter: What makes you so sure?
Purvis: We have two things Dillinger does not.
Reporter: What are they?
Purvis: The bureau's modern techniques of fighting crime scientifically and the visionary leadership of our director, J. Edgar Hoover.

Dillinger and his crew are out at a night club for dinner, when he's approached by gangster Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi) who tells him he needs help on a kidnapping.
Dillinger: I don't like kidnapping.
Alvin: Well, robbing banks is getting tougher.
Dillinger: The public don't like kidnapping.
Alvin: Who gives a damn what the public likes?
Dillinger: I do. I hide out among them. We gotta care what they think.
Alvin mentions another job robbing a mail train and Dillinger tells him to keep him in mind for that.
During the conversation Dillinger observes a woman, Billie Frechette, (Marion Cotillard) turning away a man's advances. Before approaching her, he speaks with Red., mentioning concern about Homer.
Red: Homer's fine.
Dillinger: One rule I learned from Walter Dietrich, never work with people who are desperate.
Red: Yeah, well I got a rule too. Stay away from the women.
Dillinger: Without women, it's like back in stir.
Red: That's why they invented whores.
Ana Sage arrives with a girl for Red and Dillinger approaches Billie Frechette. She's surprised when he tells her he doesn't know how to dance and makes him dance anyway, guiding him through a slow song. She reveals concern about her background, saying "My Mom's a Menominee Indian, okay? Most men don't like that." Dillinger responds "I ain't most men."
Billie: Yeah? And I've been a dice girl and I check coats at the Steuben Club. And what do you do?
Dillinger: I'm catching up. Meeting somebody like you, dark and beautiful, like that bird in the song.
Walking outside he offers her his coat for the cold and they find a finer restaurant to pick up their talk.
Billie: What is it that you do?
Dillinger: I'm John Dillinger. I rob banks. That's where all these people here put their money.
Billie: [laughs] Why did you tell me that? You could have made up a story.
Dillinger: I'm not gonna lie to you.
Billie: That's a serious thing to say to a girl you just met.
Dillinger: I know you.
Billie: Well, I don't know you. I haven't been anyplace.
Dillinger; Well, some of the places I've been ain't so hot. Where I'm going is a whole lot better. Want to come along?
Billie: Boy, are you in a hurry!
Dillinger: If you were looking at what I'm looking at, you'd be in a hurry too.
Billie: Well [looks around] It's me they're looking at this time.
Dillinger; You're beautiful.
Billie: They're looking at me because they're not used to having a girl in their restaurant in a $3.00 dress.
Dillinger: Listen doll. That's because they're all about where people come from. The only thing that's important is where somebody's going.
Billie: Where are you going?
Dillinger: Anywhere I want. Let's get out of here.
Dillinger is stopped on the way out by an associate, Gil (Domenick Lombardozzi) and tells Billie to wait for him outside. Gil wants him to meet Frank Nitti (Bill Camp) who Gil has been working for. He tells Dillinger that he's connected to people all over the country. Dillinger remarks that Nitti looks like a barber. One of Nitti's top men, Phil D'Andrea (John Ortiz) introduces himself and tells Dillinger that the stories of him robbing banks and giving customers back their money crack him up. He tells Dillinger to ask Gil if he ever needs anything. Dillinger leaves and finds that Billie is gone, having taken a cab.

Purvis is holding a meeting with his men. They have obtained a coat Dillinger left with a witness. Purvis explains that they have found every store in the US that sold that coat and referenced it with known associates of Dillinger. He says "He was in a place. He got cold. He bought a coat. Unless he was travelling through, he was being harbored nearby. If he returns, we will be there. It is by such methods that our bureau will catch Dillinger." He tells the men that they will be receiving heavy weaponry and tells them " We are pursuing hardened killers. They will be dangerous. And those of you who aren't prepared for that should go. And, if you are going to go. Please go now." Purvis next listens to a recorded phone conversation with Dillinger and Harry Berman, Dillinger's auto supplier, discussing a pending drop off of a car. Purvis decides to tail the car delivery.

Dillinger has tracked down Billie at her job checking coats. He walks up to her while she's helping a customer.
Dillinger: You ran out on me.
Billie: You left me standing on the sidewalk.
Dillinger: If you're gonna be my girl, you're gonna have to swear to me that you''ll never do that again.
Billie: Hey, I'm not your girl. And, I'm not gonna say that.
The customer starts getting impatient.
Dillinger: I'm waiting. "I'm never gonna run out on you ever again." Say the words.
Billie: No.
Customer: My coat.
Dillinger: Well I ain't never gonna run out on you and that's a promise.
Customer: Well, I want to run out of here, so lady...
Dillinger smacks him in the head, knocking him down. He then goes behind the counter and finds the man's coat and throws it at him. He grabs Billie's coat as well and holds it up expecting her to put her arms in. He tells her "You ain't getting other people's hats and coats no more neither." Billie asks "Why did you do that?" He answers "Because you're with me now." Billie says "I don't know anything about you." and he answers "I was raised on a farm in Mooresville, Indiana. My mama died when I was three. My daddy beat the hell out of me 'cause he didn't know no better way to raise me. I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars, whiskey and you. What else you need to know?" She puts on the coat and accompanies him to his place where he presents her with an expensive fur coat and they soon end up in bed and she tells him about places she lived where "nothing exciting ever happened." and that coming to Chicago was her attempt to find something exciting. Dillinger promises an exciting new life.

Purvis and his men have seen the car drop. Purvis goes into the building to check it out. When he doesn't find Dillinger, but another gangster Leonard McHenry, (actually Babyface Nelson) eating dinner. Purvis is suspicious however and has his men move in, leaving a man at the apartment. The agent is distracted by another gangster coming home and McHenry shoots the agent. Purvis runs back in to find the agent dying. This starts a gun battle, with the gangster's in the drop car getting away because the agent's "blocking car" came to the scene after hearing gunfire. They realize that it wasn't Dillinger but Babyface Nelson (Stephen Graham) that got away. During that time, Dillinger and his crew are robbing a bank. Hoover is mad at Purvis for this, but Purvis tells Hoover that they need experienced men with "special qualifications" to catch Dillinger.
Hoover: I thought you understood what I'm building, a modern force of professional young men of the best sort.
Purvis: I'm afraid our type cannot get the job done.
Hoover: Excuse me, I cannot hear you.
Purvis: [louder] I'm afraid our type cannot get the job done.
Hoover; I cannot hear you.
Purvis: [louder] I'm afraid our type cannot get the job done. Without qualified help, I would have to resign this appointment. Otherwise, I am leading my men to slaughter.
Hoover: Mr. Tolson will call you, Agent Purvis.
A group of experienced lawmen soon arrive and Purvis meets them getting off their train.

Dillinger, his crew and Billie go to the horse races where Billie expresses concern about him dying. Dillinger assures her that they won't get him and they head to their hotel. A romantic moment is interrupted, however, by agents busting into the room and apprehending him. He and his crew yell information to each other as they are escorted out. Fireman had responded to an alarm, found their guns and called the cops. He learns that Billie was not arrested. Purvis comes to see him in custody and rather than speaking just stares.
Dillinger: Well, here's the man who killed Pretty Boy Floyd. Damn good thing he was pretty, because he sure wasn't whiz kid Floyd. Tell me something Mr. Purvis. The fellow, the one who got killed at the Sherone Apartments, the newspaper said you found him alive. It's the eyes, ain't it? They look at you right before they go. And, then they just drift away into nothing. That'll keep you up nights.
Purvis: And, what keeps you up nights, Mr. Dillinger?
Dillinger: Coffee. You act like a confident man, Mr. Purvis. You got a few qualities. Probably pretty good from a distance, especially when you got the fella outnumbered. But, up close, toe to toe, when somebody's about to die, right here, right now, I'm used to that. What about you?
Purvis: Goodbye Mr. Dillinger.
Dillinger: I'll see you down the road.
Purvis: No, you will not. The only way that you will leave a jail cell is when we take you out to execute you.
Dillinger, Well, we''ll see about that. You oughtta get yourself another line of work Melvin.

Dillinger is transported to Indiana, and arriving in custody, is given a press conference and the prison officials get pictures with him. Dillinger is brought into court to arrange trial details, where his lawyer arranges to have his shackles removed and also prevents him from being transferred to a higher security prison. The date is set for a month away. Once back in jail, he quickly improvises an escape pulling a fake gun on the janitor, in order to get the cell door open, then taking guards hostage as they open the other doors, eventually getting to the warden. He raids the gun room and steals a car from the prison garage, with the mechanic and a guard as a hostage, driving right past a heavy military guard unit outside. Once clear of the town he sings "the Last Round Up" to the mechanic before releasing him, which amuses the press later. Dillinger calls Billie to tell her he's coming to take care of her. She pleads with him not to come to Chicago, but he insists that he will and makes her agree. Purvis listens to their conversation, and mentions that either he'll go to her, or she to him eventually.

Dillinger finds Red and they visit the brothel they used as a hideout, only to be turned down and told to talk to Gil. Gil directs them to Phil D'Andrea who is running an phone room for bookies. When Phil's men attempt to pat them down Dillinger takes the man hostage and points a gun at Phil saying "You want to know if we're armed? We're armed." Phil urges everyone to calm down. Phil explains that the phones make the money Dillinger makes from a bank robbery all day ever day adding "unless the cops come through that door."
Dillinger: Which you pay them not to do.
Phil: Right. Unless you're around. Then. they gotta come through that door, no matter what. What does that tell you?
Dillinger: I'm popular.
Phil: It tells us you're bad for business. So, the Syndicate's got a new policy. All the guys like you, Karpis, Nelson, Campbell, We ain't laundering your money or bonds no more. You ain't holing up in our whorehouses anymore. No armorers, no doctors, no safe havens, no nothing. You get it?
Dillinger and Red leave.

Hoover meets with Purvis and instructs him to "create informants." When Hoover mentions Red's family and Purvis mentions that they haven't had word from Red in yearscreate informants." When Hoover mentions Red's family and Purvis mentions that they haven't had word from Red in years, Hoover says "Make them get word." and tells him to "take off the white gloves."

Dillinger goes to the movies to meet with an associate Tommy Carroll (Spencer Garrett) who has a score in mind. Dillinger doesn't like the idea that Babyface Nelson is part of the crew. According to Nelson, the bank is worth $800,000.00 and he has a place they can hide out.  Dillinger is also unhappy that Schouse is on their crew but Tommy says "We gotta all be friends or this ain't gonna work." Dillinger insists that they help spring Pierpont and Makley from prison and Tommy agrees to look at it. While they talk, Dillinger's face comes on the movie screen before the movie, with instructions to look at the person next to you and call the police if you see Dillinger. They leave the theater as the movie starts and Red quotes Walter's rules to Dillinger "You don't work with people you don't know. You don't work when you're desperate. Walter Dietrich, remember that?" Dillinger replies "Walter forgot. When you're desperate that's when you got no choice."
We move to the job in progress where Babyface Nelson seems to be enjoying yelling and firing his gun. Exiting the bank they find there are sharpshooters waiting Dillinger is shot, and Tommy is shot and apparently killed. After a gun battle, Dillinger's crew along with Babyface run to Babyface's hideout.Dillinger was only shot in the arm. They divide the money, finding they got $46,000.00. Dillinger says to Bayface "That'd be less than $800,000.00, Am I right?" Dillinger tells Red if they don't leave Babyface right away, they'll end up dead.  Red tells Dillinger that he has a feeling his own "time is up."

Puvis and an agent are with Tommy at a hospital. Tommy is in agony but the agent withholds painkillers for information on the others' whereabouts. The doctor is outraged, telling Purvis that Tommy's brain is swelling as there's a bullet in his head and he's going to die soon. The doctor demands to sedate him, but Purvis promises to arrest the doctor if he interferes. The agent questioning Tommy aggravates his wound and finally gets the information. Purvis immediately arranges men to head to the hideout. The agents drive up with their lights off and sneak in around the place on foot using surrounding trees for cover. One of the experienced agents tells Purvis they should wait until the roads are blockaded, but Purvis says he can't risk them escaping again, so wants to move in right away. Nelson is making a scene at a bar connected to their place. Purvis sees a car leaving and orders it to halt. When it doesn't, he orders everyone to fire. This wakes up Dillinger and his crew in the house start firing back. Purvis realizes that they killed innocent people, and a woman in the back is terrified. He tells her to stay down. Dillinger and Red sneak out of the house, but agents follow them throught he woods. Red gets shot in the pursuit, but gets to a car with Dillinger. Nelson shoots an agent and steals his car. Purvis finds the agent before he dies, and the agent tells him that it was Nelson who did it.Nelson picks up Homer and Schouse as Purvis' car of agents catch up with them. Purvis forces the car off the road, and they then kill all three gangsters. Dillinger is attending to Red, who asks "You ever seen a man die before?" Dillinger says "Shut up." And Red tells him he has to let go, and let Billie go too. adding "I know you. You never let nobody down. But, this time, you gotta go on. You gotta let go." just before dying.

Purvis calls a meeting with his agents. He tells them "Right now, all of Dillinger's friends are dead. He is out there and he is alone. And, there will not be a better chance to run him down. The agents suggest that he could be anywhere, but Purvis tells them that "what he wants is right here." We then see Billie at home under heavy surveillance. She turns on her radio, dresses up like a man and leaves her building, going out into the street, where Dillinger picks her up. On the radio, it's announced that Dillinger is responsible for Congress considering "the first national crime bill, making criminal enterprise across state lines a federal offense." Frank Nitti is disturbed by this news. He calls Paul to tell him about it. Paul isn't concerned but Nitti reminds him that their operation is coast to coast and the new laws can be used on them.
Dillinger and Billie have some time alone. He mentions that they could go away altogether, once he does a big job that Alvin has coming up, that'll pay enough for them to disappear. Billie agrees to go with him.  The next day Dillinger sends Billy into a bar to get keys for an apartment while he waits outside. As soon as she enters, agents grab her. From the car Dillinger sees agents flooding out of the building to look for him.He gets out of the car and watches them escort her away, before getting back in and leaving the scene. The agents have Billie, now bruised up, in a room, cuffed to a chair, slapping her to get information. She gives them an apartment number and the agents unable to reach Purvis head for the address. Finding the apartment empty, they return and the agent in charge starts beating Billie with a phone book. He says "Where is he?" and Billie answers, "Well, way the hell away from here by now isn't he? You wanted to know where he is, you dumb flatfoot. You walked right past him on State Street. You were too scared to look around. He was at the curb in that black Buick. You asked me how I got there and I told you I took a taxi, and you believed me? He dropped me off and he was waiting for me and you walked right past him.And when my Johnny finds out how you slapped around his girl, you know what happens to you fat boy?" Purvis arrives and a woman working there, who has been horrified by Billies treatment complains to him. The agent is about to punch her when Purvis and other agents walk in stop him and have her uncuffed. Purvis tells her the restroom is down the hall, but Billie can't stand up. He carries her to the restroom.
Marty Zarkovitch, the Chicago cop Dillinger had paid off has a call with Nitti, telling him "I think I can get her to play ball." Nitti says "Make sure." Marty then talks with Ana the brothel owner, who tells him she's about to be sent back to Romania. She asks "Can they fix deportation? Can they do that?" Marty tells her they can fix anything. and she says "OK." He brings her to Purvis. Ana tells Purvis she wants a guarantee and he says "If you aid us in apprehending John Dillinger, I give you my word I will do everything I can to influence the Bureau of Immigration to let you stay in America." Ana says "Not enough." Purvis responds "That's all there is." She accuses him of telling the Bureau of Immigration to deport her. He doesn't bother responding but asks "How do you socialize with him?" She says "We go out. Maybe tomorrow night, maybe not. Maybe in a week, a month, maybe never." Purvis isn't amused and tells her. " I will not guarantee what Immigration will do, but I can guarantee what I will do. If you do not cooperate, you will be on a boat out of this country in 48 hours. Do not play games with me." She tells him she'll call him on the day when she knows they're going out.
Dillinger meets with his lawyer, who hands him a note Billie passed to him from prison, as she got two years. The note asks him not to break her out. Dillinger meets with Alvin to go over the plan to heist the train. Alvin estimates $300,000.00 each man. Dillinger returns to the house where he's staying at, where Ana greets him. He suggests they go see a movie that night as he's bothered by not having air conditioning. When he leaves Ana calls Purvis. Purvis announces that "it is tonight." and informs them that Ana will be with him wearing a white blouse and orange skirt. Ana gave them two possible theatres, and they initially plan to head to both. Agent Winstead (Steven Lang) suggests they check what's playing. Finding that a Shirley Temple movie is on at the Marlbro theatre and a gangster picture is on at the Biograph, the agent concludes "John Dillinger ain't going to a Shirley Temple movie."  Purvis still plans to cover both, putting himself at the Biograph.
Dillinger drives Polly, a woman who lives with Ana, to get her waitressing license. Realizing that the Investigation Bureau operates out of the same building he goes in and looks at the Agent's boards concerning him. He sees his picture lined up along with all of his dead friends. He asks the agents the score of a ball game on the radio and they answer him without noticing him at all.

Later, the agents situate themselves at the theatres. while Dillinger gets ready to go. Purvis from across the street, notices Anna's skirt as they're entering the theater. Purvis decides to stand at the theatre entrance and light up a cigar as a signal for all the agents in position when Dillinger exits.  Ana gets nervous during the film and can't stop looking around. Dillinger enjoys the movie, smiling when Clark Gable, on his way to execution, tells a fellow inmate, "Die the way you lived, all of a sudden, that's the way to go. Don't drag it out. Living like that doesn't mean a thing." Purvis readies his cigar and the theatre starts clearing out. He lights it and the agents start scrambling. The agent who slapped Billie around is directly behind them with his gun pointed at Dillinger's back. Dillinger turns around and stares at him, causing the agent to lose his nerve. Purvis, Winstead and the experienced agents, however are also approaching and Winstead shoots him through the back of the head while another shoots him in chest. Dillinger falls to the ground bleeding profusely. Winstead kneels down to hear Dillinger gasping. Purvis asks "What did he say?" Winstead says he couldn't hear him. Purvis asks Winstead to handle the scene while he goes to call Washington. The people in the area start rioting.

We find WInstead at the women's penitentiary where Billie is escorted to him. Billie is antagonistic telling him she won't answer any questions. He tells her "I came here to tell you something." She knows he's the man who shot him and asked why he came. He tells her that Dillinger asked him to. He tells her that he heard Dillinger say "Tell Billie for me, 'Bye Bye Blackbird'" Billie starts crying and Winstead leaves.
We then see text on the screen saying "Melvin Purvis quit the FBI a year later and died by his own hand in 1960."
"Billie Frechette was released in 1936 and lived the rest of her life in Wisconsin"

What About It?

Public Enemies is a film continuing the classic gangster movie tradition. There have been many films about Dillinger over the years. Like Al Capone or Jesse James, he is an authentic piece of American folklore. While certainly a robber and a killer, he was also very much a product of his times.  Dillinger has often been presented as a Robin Hood figure, burning mortgage notes, and insisting on only taking money from the banks, not the individuals who happen to be there. That image isn't a concern here, as he is no humanitarian in this film. While the film is based on a biography, I'm not concerned with factual accuracy but the characters as presented here.

While this is certainly a period piece, and signs of the times do come through, like the gangsters stylish clothing, cars, guns, and desolate dusty farms. The 30's here feel authentic and yet contemporary at the same time, as if the 30's continued into now or reimagined with contemporary sensibilities. Michael Mann, of course, is a master at setting, and as usual, location is a large part of the film. Chicago is perhaps the heart of it, but Dillinger moves around Ohio, Indiana, and Florida, but all of the places share features, namely big spaces and small rooms. The desolation of the depression is apparent everywhere but Dillinger and his crew in their fine clothes, constantly grabbing money and throwing it around, are a sharp contrast to that.

Dillinger is not a loose cannon, but seriously disciplined. He has his own crew who all know the operation and have their own dedicated roles. Despite the appearance of chaos, all of the variables are carefully considered. He treats customers well, not harming anyone unnecessarily, even down to the hostages. He is a very serious and scarily competent man who follows effective rules and has bank robbing down to a science. These are men who know exactly how to best rob a bank and get away. Even beyond bank robbing, he has every aspect of his lifestyle figured, where his crew lives, how often they move and how to go see a movie.

While it appears that Dillinger and Purvis are being set up as matched opponents, Depp's Dillinger is so much larger than Bale's Purvis, that you come to the conclusion that Dillinger's only worthy opponent is the whole system, the banks, cops, Hoover, the government. That isn't to say that he's a revolutionary, he's more of a force of nature. He doesn't spout manifestos, just takes what he wants, never considering for a moment that he can't. Billie asks him "What do you want?" and he replies "Everything, right now." He certainly seems to enjoy being the top man, although he doesn't obsess (in dialogue anyway) about his motivations. He's a thinker, but he lets his actions and jobs speak for him. He will brag a bit, when Billie needs reassuring, but for the most part, he knows he's better than the cops and the agents. He knows how to play their game as well. Even arrest and imprisonment seem a minor inconvenience as at one point he improvises an escape within minutes. This a man of supreme confidence and amazing boldness. But as far as goals, he only has concern for right now. When explaining to Billie that "where he's going" is what's important, he has no place in mind other than "anywhere I want."

Dillinger isn't portrayed for sympathy here. This is a man who can easily shoulder his best friends dying, or killing officers and agents who stand in his way. He is not, however, bloodthirsty or given to more force than is needed. In the beginning of the film, he's angry with Schouse for killing a guard, although most likely for practical reasons. He never kills or even hurts civilians if it can be avoided. Much of this I think, is his intelligence, and playing the game. He tells Alvin that he doesn't kidnapping, in part because the public doesn't like it, explaining that public opinion is important as he has to "hide among them" Dillinger goes out of his way to present an affable public face. Singing a song for the benefit of a mechanic he's taken hostage is surely done with the later headlines in mind. The public feels like they know Dillinger, he's not so different from them, except that he's willing to risk his life to take the money he doesn't have. This would be tough to maintain if he appeared as a random and blood crazed killer. Viewed in contrast with Babyface Nelson, who is obnoxious and sadistic, making enemies everywhere he goes, it's easy to see why Dillinger endured longer than Nelson did. The public, including the reporters and prison employees eat of Dillinger's hand. They give in easily to his charisma, making his entrance into jail a photo opportunity. He presents himself as simply a man who sticks by his friends, a concept most would find admirable. The public isn't clamoring for his capture, but the government is, largely, it appears, because he makes them look foolish.

Hoover especially despises Dillinger as the fly in the ointment of the empire he's building. Billy Crudup gives us an interesting portrayal of Hoover here, a petty man with much ambition and little loyalty. Hoover has perhaps as little value for due process as Dillinger, telling Purvis to fabricate events and to extract information using brutal tactics which certainly don't match anyone's concept of the law. Hoover, in his way, is as dangerous as Dillinger, his total lack of loyalty, and commitment to his own image make everyone beneath him expendable. It's interesting that for all his hatred of Dillinger, Dillinger turns out to be the best thing for him. It's only Dillinger's seeming invincibility that urges on laws that increase Hoover's power.  Hoover like Dillinger,  makes use of the press to further his own ends, Purvis being a prime example of this.

Christian Bale's Melvin Purvis has things in common with Dillinger. He takes his job very seriously, and will kill if he has to. He is disciplined and determined, yet for all of his ability he is simply not in Dillinger's league. Purvis is a functionary, while Dillinger is making up his existence as he goes along. Purvis is not as able to cope with the things that Dillinger shoulders. Watching men die, clearly affects him and it's clear that as the story progresses Purvis regrets his hands getting dirty, yet has a task he must finish. We see this progression in Purvis threatening a doctor in order to torture information from a criminal, and then later showing sympathy when these brutal tactics are used by his own men on Billie Frechette.  As is stated in the ending text, Purvis quit the Bureau shortly after the Dillinger killing, and eventually took his own life, so it would seem that his reservations did not go away, although presumably Purvis could have had many other issues we are not aware of. Purvis was no match for Dillinger, simply the agent most directly involved and focused in the massive effort required to take him down. He is an interesting foil for Dillinger, specifically providing the gangster with some sense of scale. Certainly the pursuit of Dillinger changes him and the man who methodically took down Pretty Boy Floyd with the sense of a job well done, becomes a man deeply shaken by the nature of his duties. When he visits Dillinger in the jail cell, he is clearly given pause when Dillinger suggests he get another line of work.

The Dillinger presented here is not an easy man to figure out. He's clearly very intelligent with a gift for planning yet won't make any long term goals. Whether this is an acknowledgement that he likely won't live long, or simply a chosen philosophy is difficult to say. He doesn't give the appearance of a man in conflict however, rather a man charging ahead without self examination. He's not a man trying to be something else, but a man enjoying exactly who he is. His relationship with Billie however, does seem to affect him immediately. His "claiming" of her at her coat check job, fits with the boldness of his character, and his philosophy of taking what he wants, yet he soon forms a very real attachment to her. His love for Billie persisting despite many forced separations, all the way up to the end of his life. His last words "Tell Billie for me, 'Bye Bye Blackbird'" reveal a man who is not emotionless, but selective in his vulnerability. With Billie, he does consider changing his philosophy, discussing making a big last score and disappearing.  We can't know whether he would've attempted this, but for a moment it seems to have been considered. But, for all of the affection and desired attachment, Dillinger never succeeds in committing to the relationship as his lifestyle won't allow the safety to settle.

The cast here is top notch. Christian Bale is perfect for the understated but dogged Purvis. Marion Cotillard's Billie presents a compelling woman, exotic yet reachable. Jason Clarke's portrayal of Red is a convincing trusted confidante for Dillinger. Stephen Dorff, David Wenham and Christian Stolte give a convincing depiction of Dillinger's tight knit crew. Billy Cruddup's Hoover is wonderfully creepy, petty and manipulative, giving Dillinger a bit of sympathy if only because he's an enemy of Hoover. Johnny Depp is flawless as Dillinger, giving us a very interesting character unconflicted about his motivations. We never feel as if he's "playing" a gangster, although all of the trappings are there. Depp makes the character completely his own and inhabits the character as if no one had played him before.

Dillinger was as much a celebrity as a bank robber. In times when the banks and the government were perceived by many as the enemy, he was someone doing what many may have wished they could do. He doesn't come across as a Robin Hood, but neither does he come across as evil. Ruthless, intelligent, and strangely driven, we see a man determined to get all the mileage he can out of his life, despite any rules or the fact that his decision makes his life a short one. It's a fitting touch, including the clip from the last film Dillinger saw with Clark Gable pronouncing  "Die the way you lived, all of a sudden, that's the way to go. Don't drag it out. Living like that doesn't mean a thing." The biggest decision he makes, is to live for the now with no regard for tomorrow, but everything goes south when he breaks his own rules. The force of the man is astounding, giving a believable Public Enemy Number One. If it weren't for his own mistakes, his belief in his own invincibility may well have held up, as no one seemed a match for him, when he was paying attention.

Dillinger ultimately loses to the changing times, and his own effectiveness ends up his undoing. Laws and resources put into place for Dillinger's capture cause him to lose the resources of Nitti's crime syndicate, even making Nitti actively interested in Dillinger's end. The more and more obvious ineffectiveness of law enforcement ensures that efforts will increase until they do match him. When it finally happens, it appears amazingly simple. The larger than life Dillinger is taken down by a simple betrayal and a couple bullets from behind. He was after all, just a man, although, just like the man who lowers his gun when Dillinger looks him in the eye, you can't help but wonder what it was about Dillinger that made him for a time seem so much more.

12 comments:

BRENT said...

I liked this alot. Gangster movies are like westerns somewhat in having gone out of fashion decages ago so it was refreshing to see a modern take on the gangster era.
I believe it was an accurate portrayal as well with some in-depth research under taken to get the facts right. Quite unusal in a Hollywood that more often than not the rides rough shod over historical accuracy.
Many here in NZ found it boring and too long, but I was engrossed by it, and Depp was very good as the vain ego driven Dillinger. He showed he can play straight roles well and not the quirky ones he does so well.
Certainly a film that is worth seeing and I intend to re-visit at some stage.

J.D. said...

Y'know, I was hoping that you would tackle this film at some point and am not disappointed. You make some very astute observations, esp. re: Purvis. A lot of people criticized Bale's portrayal and Mann's failure to balance out the depiction of Purvis and Dillinger as if they were expecting a HEAT-esque showdown but Mann was clearly more interested in depicting Dillinger's life and his outlook on it - i.e. living for the moment and enjoying things while they can because it could so easily be gone as evident in the opening scene where his friend is shot and killed after the break out of prison.

This film got a really odd reaction from critics and audiences who maybe were expecting something like Brian De Palma's THE UNTOUCHABLES - an exciting popcorn movie but I get the impression that Mann had bigger fish to fry and was trying to do for the gangster genre what he did for the cop procedural with MIAMI VICE - attempt to examine the inner lives of these men of action and explore what motivates them to do what they do.

Brent said...

@Brent, yes, it was definitely thoroughly researched right down to Dillinger's speech patterns. It is great to see Depp really display his talent in a serious role. It was long but it kept my attention throughout.

Brent said...

@J.D. Thank you! great points. I think the missing "showdown" element was definitely the source of a lot of grumbling. THe character of Purvis brought a lot to the story, but to really be appreciated I think it really has to be seen as a Dilinger movie. Good point on the opening. There was definitely a fatalist mentality always at work, which is also picked up by Red shortly before he's killed. I'd agree with your thoughts on its aim. It wasn't really aiming for the popcorn crowd, more of a serious examination (done well too I might add.)

Free Online Movies said...

the movies was so much close to reality!! if it was really a research so it was really very valuable research!!! and again depp was awesome!!!

Melissa Bradley said...

I loved this movie. Depp clearly became Dillinger and just blew me away as he usually does. I've read a lot on Dillinger, Purvis and Hoover. Being from Chicago, gangsters are in my DNA LOL. What struck me was the as you said the criticism for Bale's Purvis. He nailed the guy.

Purvis was a middle man thrust up by a few situations into a position of some power, power he could not really handle. He was never really cut out to be an agent, he did not have the depth of steel to maintain. He could occasionally rise to the situation, but he spent that reserve on the Dillinger case and he was done. He was more into the tech of tracking criminals rather being in on the actual arrest. I think he would have lasted in the Bureau if he could have just been the tech guy.

Hoover was a bit meh for me here. Crudup and Mann plainly went for the maniacal, petty aspects of Hoover. It came across as one-dimensional, but this was not about Hoover, it was all about Dillinger.

Depp's performance was nothing short of brilliant. I mean obviously this is one person's interpretation of Dillinger, but from what I read, it is fairly accurate. They played up the more romantic aspects of his relationship to Billie, but it made for good story. Depp and Cotilliard definitely had great chemistry.

I think many people wanted to see a showdown, but those are people who clearly don't know the history. Very few gangsters were actually brought down in a hail of gunfire, Bonnie and Clyde are probably the most famous for that. Otherwise, most were taken down in simple arrests. Dillinger's take down was engineered more like a modern surgical strike.

Your analysis of this film is spot on and very thorough. I enjoyed reading it immensely. It brought back memories of seeing it filmed here. Thanks!

Brent said...

@freeonlinemovies, agreed!

Brent said...

@Melissa, Thank you! This is a film that is deeper than it first appears. As you mention, those looking for a showdown will be disappointed, but viewed as a story about Dillinger, it can't be beat. After many viewings, I find Depp's work more solid each time. Of course you are right that Hoover was a bit of a caricature, but again, as you mention, this film isn't about Hoover, but Dillinger and the shadow he cast over everyone. Bale was truly top notch for the part he played. Purvis was a complex character in his own right and his performance cannot be faulted, though Depp had the big part. Michael Mann belives that Depp still carries a bit of Dillinger around as he identified so much with the man.

Melissa Bradley said...

It does not surprise me that Mann would say something like that. I know that Depp tried on the pants that Dillinger wore and they fit him exactly. Not that that really has anything to do with MAnn's statement, but Depp, himself often commented on the research he did for Dillinger and how he was absorbed by this guy. He really became Dillinger, I believe. This is one movie where I was completely absorbed in the man and not the freakish things going on around him or the accoutrements of costume.

Brent said...

Yes, I had also heard him talking about the pants (which fit quite well as I recall) THis is probably one of the most meticulously researched films out there, Bale apparently frilled the Purvis family thoroughly about every last detail. I'd totally agree on the characterization rendering the trappings almost irrelevant. Although, how Mann managed to make the time period seem "true" and yet comtemporary is a marvel in and of itself!

Melissa Bradley said...

Yes he did. This was one production that absolutely captured the feel of the time. I felt like I was walking through a time gate back to the 30's. After I'd seen the film, I felt compelled to go to the Biograph and seeing the way the area looks now made me appreciate Mann's exquisite attention to detail all the more. I could talk about this movie for hours and hours. Now I want to go and watch it again. Thanks for this brilliant discussion.

Emm said...

This is a really great film but I found the cinematography sightly jarring!

As far as I know, Public Enemies was filmed for Blu-ray technology but we're used to the gaslights and blurred edges of old time films. Still, once you get past the stark realism and brilliant cinematography, sets that look brand new and not from the beginning of the last century, it is an excellent story.

Another great review, Brent.