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Movie Review

Public Enemies a.k.a. “Dimosios kindynos,” “Ennemis publics,” “Gangsteri,” “Inimigos Públicos,” “Közellenségek,” “Nemico pubblico,” “Verejní neprátelé”

MPAA Rating: R for gangster violence and some language.

Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray

Extremely Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Crime, Drama
2 hr. 23 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
July 1, 2009 (wide—3,200 theaters)
DVD: December 8, 2009
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Universal Pictures

Thieves in the Bible: Theft, Robbery, The two thieves



Final judgment


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Featuring: Johnny Depp (John Dillinger), Christian Bale (Melvin Purvis), Billy Crudup (J. Edgar Hoover), Channing Tatum (Pretty Boy Floyd), Leelee Sobieski, Emilie de Ravin, Marion Cotillard, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff, Stephen Graham, Carey Mulligan, more »
Director: Michael Mann
Producer: Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, more »
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Public Enemies” is an expertly crafted American drama based on fact, is handled with great attention to detail, is directed by Michael Mann who is a gifted director, and has some great performances by the actors. That said to it’s credit, I must say you’ll probably want to wait and rent this one on DVD, so that you can get up and pop some corn and answer your emails in between it’s long and brooding shots.

This film should have premiered later in the year. It is the perfect fair for the “thought-provoking” end of year films, not the ruff-and-tumble action we want during the summer blockbuster months. As one reviewer in the Washington Post put it: “Public Enemies” has no soul. Similarly, Time Magazine claims that the film’s emphasis on docudrama allows for “precious little dramatic juice,” and these comments say it all.

“Public Enemies” is a singularly American drama. It is intelligent and beautifully produced, paying close attention to detail. Every set and costume is meticulously presented, and with solid performances by some of our days most proficient actors who manage to give us little spurts of gifted delivery, which were not enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. Filmed close to the faces of the actors, there aren’t many long shots allowing it some scope. The action scenes, although full of shoot outs and bank robberies, just seemed to fall flat.

The film centers around the final year of John Dillinger’s (Johnny Depp) sensational criminal career between 1933 and 1934. The government puts the pressure on the first director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) to round up and prosecute the leagues of bank robbers and mob bosses birthed by the great depression. These men were seen in the eye of the public more as celebrities than for the ruthless criminals and murderers they really were. Hoover, after not being able to garner the funding he needs to spread out his net of G-Men to get the job done, tightens up his squad and hires on talented and respected FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and his band of Texas Rangers to settle the score on crime.

Purvis is known for his use of modern technologies and then considered stealth processes to capture and sometimes kill his criminal prey. Having already brought down the likes of Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum), he leads the man-hunt to bring down the likes of Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) and eventually John Dillinger.

Most of the success at avoiding capture is that the Dillinger gang is always on the move, covering a wide area that stretches from the midwest states of Indiana and Illinois to Arizona. The one thing that Dillinger cannot leave behind, however, and ultimately weakens his toughness and emotional guard, is his love for girlfriend Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard). She is the one link to Dillinger, and Purvis knows this all too well. After Billie is caught and arrested, Dillinger never leaves the Chicago area, looking for a way to rescue her. Because of this one blunder, it is only a matter of time before the final showdown in front of the Biograph theater in Chicago on the fateful night of July 22, 1934.

“Public Enemies,” because of it’s obvious subject matter, is full of bloodshed, shooting, and graphic images of murder, death and destruction. The rating of R for gangster violence and strong language is more than appropriate. There are women called whores, and they are just that, who are seen in flimsy attire, but never nude.

I could count on ten fingers all the swear words, however, and the one love scene in the film, although steamy, really doesn’t show much ‘skin,’ but relies mostly on passionate kissing and the ‘love language’ that hints at what is actually going on between the lovers.

The gun battles are graphic and extremely realistic, making you feel as if you are right in the rooms or standing beside the men who are shooting and being shot at. The death scenes are graphic, and the use of Hollywood special effects prosthetics makes the blood oozing from bodies appear extremely real. Of course, this film is not for children or even adults who cannot take such stark realistic depictions.

Needless to say, this is not a Christian film, and never considers God or a life-changing experience with Him as an answer to a change from the degraded life of crime the criminals lead, or even the hope for the men who hunt and kill them. It is actually very depressing, because there is no happy ending, as its ending has already been told in the real world and historic story of John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis.

We know full well as Christians that a life of crime can never culminate in any kind of true happiness. That all the money, possessions and celebrity this world can offer will never reap the rewards of true joy. Only Jesus can give a man that. Even men who have lived a life of crime, if turned towards and accepting the love of The Cross, can say they are truly happy. That is because they are forgiven and fully pardoned from the One who is in control. No court can do this for a man’s soul, only Jesus can bestow true and lasting forgiveness. In that total forgiveness, from God our Maker, is true and complete happiness and joy.

As I sat and watched the ending credits roll to “Public Enemies,” I felt a real sadness. Not a sadness for the film, but for the very real persons portrayed therein, for all those who are hurting in this world while living a life of crime, looking for the easy way to fulfillment. The one thing that kept repeating in my mind and heart were these sobering words. That one who uses violence can expect only a violent response. That if one lives by the sword, he most definitely will die by the sword.

How very true the words of Jesus in Matthew 26:52 ring down through man’s existence, and how we should head them still today: “Return your sword to it’s place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—“Public Enemies” does not deserve it’s R rating at all as far as offensive content goes. I counted a total of 4 G**Damns and that was it for the cussing besides one or two more curse words. The sexual content was minute, there was one scene when John and Billie are scene making out, but both are clothed and then the other scene is of Billie in a bathtub, but she is covered and nothing but her bare legs and arms can be seen.

And as far as violence goes, it wasn’t excessive, it was realistic and entertaining. The tommy guns were awesome and the sound was very real, the movie-making quality was a definite A+. As usual Depp did an outstanding job and the storyline of the film was also interesting. It shows the FBI being corrupt and shows their agents torturing civilians. Even Christian Bale did a great job, though I am not a fan.

All in all, this film ravishes the viewer and leaves them wanting more John Dillinger. Dillinger’s character is humorous and thought provoking, I couldn’t help but like this Robin Hood-type man who gave the Federal Government a run for its money. I left wishing John Dillinger had a different end. Great movie, I highly recommend it, it’s very clean and entertaining, and I love the 1930’s era and wardrobe!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Elisa A. Walker, age 20 (USA)
Positive—This movie is beautiful start to finish. Depp is charged, focused, coy, and absolutely wonderful to watch. The film is full of wonderful lines that mostly Depp says. Pay attention to Depp’s face, body motions, and words. Riveting and cunning. There are a lot of insightful life lessons in this movie that are well deserved. Camera angles are excellently shot in this movie. Christian Bale is misplaced, and does not do a well in his role. He seems forced and odd, in a movie filled with excellency. Wrong role for Bale. Maybe even wrong movie. However, the film surpasses his flaws by a long shot. Two scenes, which were very short, were objectionable in the movie involving sex which were easy to simply look away from the screen. Worth ten bucks to see. Depp will definitely be one for grabs regarding best actor. “I’m having too good of a time enjoying today to worry about tomorrow”—Depp in “Public Enemies.” 5 out of 5 stars. (I don’t say that often)
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Luke, age 19 (USA)
Positive—“Public Enemies” is sleek and powerful like the big V8 Ford getaway cars these old school robbers loved hightailing it in. I don’t recommend it for kids, as there are about 4 GDs, a scene of brief sensuality, and manful portions of bullet-riddling violence. I do, however, recommend this for the curious adult. It’s a solid movie, but I fear its success will be undermined by its proximity to the box office juggernaut “Transformers 2.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Keenum, age 23 (USA)
Positive—Two reasons I saw this movie: Johnny Depp and Michael Mann. Terrific movie. The shoot outs were very realistic. Though the movie was dry at times, it really started to pick up after Billie got caught. Other than the violence and the mild cussing, this movie was not that offensive. However, what did make it offensive is that the characters did not rely on God to get them out of their lifestyle. There a very little to no movies that are Christian anymore, mostly because, as I read in an article on this site, we vote for the filth Hollywood puts out. I very rarely go to the movies anymore, but I could just sense that this movie would be a good one, and it was. If you are sensitive to a lot of realistic violence and blood, don’t go see this movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—M. Wood, age 25 (USA)
Positive—Let me quickly brief you on the objectionable activity of this movie… only because there is not a lot of it and, it shouldn’t muddle the rest of this review. God’s name is said in vain about 5 times. Two scenes involving sex were about 2 minuets long in total and did not taint the movie at all.

Now that is out of the way I can tell you why this movie is in fact amazing in four words: best: Actor, Film, cinematography. Of 2009 thus far. Anyone who says this movie is not captivating may have their head stuck with the idea that all movies are 3 hours of clanging robots swearing and swinging their testicles. COUGH *Transformers* with plenty of breast coverage and sexy-ness to cheapen things up and give the audience a good feeling that leaves you in the morning. COUGH *transformers* I’d let my kids see this film ten times before them even stepping into a theater showing Transformers 2.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Scott, age 35 (USA)
Positive—Common folks, very offensive for this movie, you got to be kidding me?? There was hardly any language, 1-F-word, which we hear in PG-13 movies now a days and few others sprinkled here and there. The script along with the acting of Depp and Bale were great. I think Bale was able to take such a dry role as Nervous Pervis and turn him into something exciting to watch on screen. Yes, it moved slow at times, but that’s when you got to witness Michael Mann’s “cheesy” music selection. :) And for those who are complaining about the blood shed, I am guessing you haven’t seen any of Michael Mann’s previous works to realize that he is a master with gun fights which normally equal blood shed. Take “Heat,” “The Insider,” “Miami Vice,” “Collateral,” the list goes on. So if you don’t like blood shed, I guess this movie isn’t for you. But hey we all got taste so who am I to knock you for it. Overall, if it weren’t for the acting, then this movie would have been a huge disappointment. But seeing Depp in a new role shows why he is one of the greatest actors of our time, and you can always rely on Bale to come through with a solid performance. I really enjoyed the film, I’ve seen it 3 times.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Brady, age 25 (USA)
Neutral—Why did director Michael Mann waste the talents of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale so much. The script needed a bit of work. Most of the film feels emotionally distant and sterile (not the trait of a good biography). Though not a bad film, “Public Enemies” offers little for the 1930s gangster genre. I kept thinking to myself “I’ve seen James Cagney do that better” or “that scene was so much more fresh in ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ or ‘The Untouchables’.” The characters remain fairly stagnate and some of the lines are downright cheesy. The “big scene” between Depp and Bale is especially disappointing and derivative.

This could have been an interesting and true portrait into the life of John Dillinger (and it does raise its own emotional bar in the third act), but merely adequate mediocrity doesn’t quite cut it for me. The sets and costumes were impressive, but even they are undermined by Mann’s choice to shoot digitally (the look never feels right for the content). So much left untapped and unexplored in this film and Bale is never given much to do beyond looking off into the distance (he’s great in “American Psycho” and “The Machinist,” give the man something to do!). Not a complete waste of your time, but you might forget about it in a day or two.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Jonathan, age 22 (USA)
Negative—This movie does contain a lot of graphic bloodshed, which I found rather unnecessary (yes, I know that is how it looks in real life, but there is enough gore in the world without having to blow it up on the big screen). The language, while there wasn’t a ton of it, was quite rough when it did appear.

The cinematography of the film was also poorly done, in my opinion. It reminded me of “King Kong” in that it was just way too long. The shots were held too long, making the film’s plot crawl by. Everyone in the group I saw it with agreed that it was a short film idea stretched into a full length feature. Also the favored camera style was either very close face shots, or an incredibly shaky camera. If you get motion sick easily it could easily make you ill.

While the costumes, sets, and props were spot on for the time period and the attention to detail was good, that’s really all the movie had going for it. There were no truly heroic characters (except for Christian Bale’s character, I suppose, although the film didn’t really center on him, it was more around the gangsters), so I couldn’t root for them. The language was too rough, and the violence rather excessive. And over all that, it was boring. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Dana, age 23 (USA)
Comments from young people
Neutral—I’ve just got home from watching this film today and my overriding emotion concerning it is one of disappointment. I’ll be the first one to admit that I expected a lot from this movie. Johnny Depp is one of my all time favorite actors, and with his amazing performances in films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Finding Neverland” he was the main reason I actually bothered to watch this film.

The trailer looked good enough, but for me the whole movie was a real let down. Although the acting was quite good in parts, most noticeably from Marion Cotillard (Billie) and Christian Bale (Melvin Purvis), I was never really drawn into the story. The plotline which revolved around a man and his gang who rob banks and have to deal with the consequences of that, becomes really predictable. The movie also seemed to drag on and at 140 min. is just too long to watch shooting scenes that soon lose their edge and become boring. The senseless killing in the movie particularly annoyed me.

If you are in any way squeamish I would not advise to watch this film. Although nothing particularly gruesome is shown, there is gallons of blood and plenty bullet wounds. Overall, I would not recommend this movie. It did not excite me, interest me or leave me with a satisfied feeling as the final credits rolled that it was worth the money.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Andrine, age 16 (United Kingdom)
Positive—It could just be that I am amazed by Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, or that I am ridiculously drawn to an era not my own, but I thought this film was brilliant. There was a low amount of swearing, I hardly noticed any as I hear more swears in a half hour on the school bus everyday than I heard in the whole movie. There was no nudity. Yes, there was plenty of violence, but it’s a gangster film, it’s a bank robber from the 30’s, of course there’s violence. If there was none it would just be unrealistic. I mean in real life people are shot down in the streets, and when the movie is based on reality then can we expect any different? The R that was afforded everywhere else was dropped to 14A here, and I say that it was rightly dropped. It is sad, a charismatic man who was led on the wrong path died a tragic death. The filming is beautiful with plenty of hand held camera scenes. The costumes brilliant, they dressed so much more classily than today. I would go and see it again… and I am.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Shawkay, age 15 (Canada)