I spent more than two hours with John Dillinger in Public Enemies and after all was said and done, I still felt like I didn’t know a damn thing about him. According to what everybody says (including the screenwriters Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann—who also directed—and Ann Biderman), he was popular with the people, though it was never clear why (his bank robberies, carried out in beautiful cathedral like buildings, were horrendously brutal and he would take terrified hostages with him, scaring the living bejesus out of them; maybe things were different in the 1930’s, but in today’s society, it’s doubtful this Dillinger would have been voted most popular in high school). Dillinger tells his girlfriend Billie (played well enough by French flavor of the month Marion Cotillard) that he believes in living for now, which is great, except that you never really see him living at all. Johnny Depp is perfectly fine as Dillinger, though he doesn’t have much of a character to play. Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis has absolutely no character to play and proceeds not to play it (the titles at the end inform the audience that he killed himself as if that meant something, though it’s unclear what). There are some fine performances in supporting roles like Stephen Graham who is pure loony tunes as Baby Face Nelson and Patrick Zielinski in a blink or you’ll miss him scene as a doctor. But perhaps the best performance is Billy Cruddup who is absolute brilliance as a tense and wound up J. Edgar Hoover, full of repressed fury. Unfortunately, one of my favorite character actors, Lily Taylor, is on hand in a misogynistic joke about women sheriffs (what do these screenwriters have against women). The set and art direction is quite impressive. But after it was all over, I still wasn’t quite sure why anybody wanted to make this movie.

So tell me what you think.

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