Public Enemies premiered on big screens in mid-summer, just when cinemagoers were close to drowning in a gungy pool of blockbuster dross. Expectations were high, then, of this Michael Mann-directed work about the last few months of the notoriously slippery Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger. The cast is excellent. And Mann, as we recall from the brilliant Heat, knows a thing or two about cat-and-mouse chases. In many ways, it succeeds. Johnny Depp is winningly suave as the smooth-talking, quick-drawing Dillinger. There is some brilliantly rousing music, which keeps the action sequences nice and pacey. And it is beautifully shot, with plenty of elaborate art deco architecture. But it is also flawed. Whereas the De Niro/Pacino dynamic defined Heat, here, Christian Bale and Depp rarely interact. When they do, it is only to fire vague threats at each other. Too many characters mean that the bit parts, though historically important, are hard to identify. And little is made of Dillinger the man, so that we only really start to care about him in the last 20 minutes. Mann has not lost his touch completely, though, and there are some masterful scenes, including one where Dillinger manages to wander around the police department dedicated to catching him. "What's the score?" he shouts nonchalantly to the staff crowded around the radio. This may not be Mann's best work, but compared to most other stuff people queue for at the box office, it's still pretty good.
Michael Mann may not be at the top of his forms in this 1930s gangster tale but he's still head and shoulders above most everyone else.