PUBLIC ENEMIES:

Films based on actual events pose the dilemma of whether to judge them on historical accuracy or strength of production and storytelling. For the most part, this movie about the last year of Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger’s (Johnny Depp) life accomplishes both fairly well. The screenplay by Ronan Bennett, Ann Biderman and director Michael Mann (ALI, THIEF) correctly depicts the ‘30s outlaw as a charismatic, unifying force among criminals with different temperaments. Real occurrences like the Crown Point prison escape in Indiana, the shootout at Little Bohemia Lodge in northern Wisconsin and Dillinger’s demise outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater are convincingly filmed in the setting where they took place, which gives this work an authentic feel. Since this movie is set in a specific 1933-34 period, it’s important to notice how well Colleen Atwood’s costumes and Nathan Crowley’s production design contribute to the realistic look of this particular time. On the downside, Elliot Goldenthal’s musical score is rather uneven with its range from appropriate Ry Cooder-like Western riffs to an overbearing preponderance of brass that comes off as pretentious. Some prominent characters, like Christian Bale’s (THE DARK KNIGHT) determined government agent Melvin Purvis, go undeveloped despite some elements in their own lives that would have made for interesting material in another movie (Purvis retired from the FBI and killed himself in 1960.) Even if it doesn’t fall into the realm of greatness, ENEMIES is a solidly entertaining movie in the style and tradition of BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) without falling into the trap of imitating it.

CRITIC’S NOTE: A popular legend about John Dillinger’s death is that he was “ratted out” by a mysterious “lady in red.” The movie correctly points out that the woman in question a.k.a. Anna Sage (Branka Katic) was wearing an orange and white blouse when Dillinger was gunned down by government agents. The myth grew when one witness described Sage’s dress as “blood red” when he saw her standing under the Biograph Theater’s marquee lights. The next day, the following poem appeared on the wall of the alleyway where Dillinger died.

Stranger, stop and wish me well,

Just say a prayer for my soul in Hell.

I was a good fellow, most people said,

Betrayed by a woman all dressed in red.