There's a great line in Gregory David Roberts' book 'Shantaram', where he explains the style of the Borsalinos, the gangsters of Milan: "They understood that if you were to live as an outlaw and steal and shoot people for a living, you had a responsibility to dress with some elegance." This goes a long way to explaining the style of the infamous American gangster John Dillinger, also known as the 'Jackrabbit' for his swift, graceful movements during heists, leaping over counters and narrow getaways from police.
Based on the book by Bryan Burrough and co-written by Irish author Ronan Bennett, 'Public Enemies' tells the true story of the life and crimes of Dillinger (Depp) and his band of merry men. Applauded by the impoverished public during the Great Depression the Robin Hood style, anti-establishment bank robber, lived fast and died young (31). In the meantime the Indiana-born legend became the most 'wanted man' on the FBI's brand spanking new books.
It may be 75 years after his death, but Mann's hi-def filming and flawless production design has brought this American anti-hero back to life. 'Public Enemies' shines a light on the 13-month period which followed Dillinger's release from prison in 1933 as a reformed man. Unlike the amateur criminal who had been arrested in 1924, he emerged a professional. He robbed several banks, escaped from two prisons and was responsible for legal and political chaos. In fact, it was the likes of Dillinger who inspired determined men like J Edgar Hoover (Crudup) to create legal rights for the FBI and agents like Melvin Purvis (Bale) to enforce them.
Depp not only resembles the dapper Dillinger in looks, but also brings a naturalistic charm to the conniving but likeable bank robber.
Director Mann once again focuses on well-matched adversaries, such as he did in 'Heat' with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino's characters, with Brian Cox and William Petersen's in 'Manhunter' and Al Pacino and Russell Crowe's in 'The Insider'.
Here he depicts the public's fascination with Purvis and Dillinger, hunter and hunted. Although Purvis shied away from the press, Dillinger used it to his full advantage, possibly one of the earliest celebrities to do so. He was also a huge film fan and particularly fond of Clark Gable, who ironically starred in the last film, 'Manhattan Melodrama', Dillinger saw before he was shot down outside the Biograph cinema in Chicago - a scene which Mann recreates seamlessly in his impressive finale.
Despite another costume change, Bale's role as the tormented hero is becoming a little too tormented following 'The Dark Knight', 'Batman Begins' and 'Terminator: Salvation'. His performance gives little indication as to why Purvis was the real-life detective who inspired the creation of Dick Treacy.
Oscar winner Marion Cotillard is superbly cast, if underused, as Dillinger's moll, Billie Frechette - her mixed race upbringing and his career choice providing the perfect catalyst for bringing these two 'outsiders' together.
One of Hollywood's new action heroes, Channing Tatum makes a cameo as one of Dillinger's gang, 'Pretty Boy', but blink and you'll miss him.
Mann's famous attention to detail, unforgettable set pieces, character development, soundtrack and rich colour sequences, have resulted in a highly entertaining piece of cinema, which gives us a previously unexplored view of the gangster. The dialogue is slick, sparse and has the right amount of humour.
The film's timing is pretty apt, the irony of the similarities between the 1933 depression/banks catastrophe and that of today will not be lost on audiences.
Less biopic than crime drama, it would have been interesting to see more about what made the man the legend he became.
It's been a while since we had a big screen period gangster film and even longer since we had a stylish good looking one, but 'Public Enemies' is just the ticket.