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Review: "Public Enemies"

June 30, 2009
Just when you've made it through another unfocused prison break sequence or another bank job more about the sound of the machine guns then the strategy or risk of the heist, "Public Enemies" gives a glimmer of hope it's going to become a better movie.

There are effective but far too-few moments between G-man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and his boss J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). Unlike Dillinger, these guys at least have overriding goals, which makes their side of the story more compelling.

Billie Frechette, the coat-check-girl turned moll, also has more of a story to tell. But in the hands of the unfocused script and Michael Mann's distracting direction, actress Marion Cotillard comes off as Meg Ryan with an accent.

Context might have helped. In "Public Enemies," the Depression takes a back seat. Everybody seems to be getting by just fine. Which diminishes the folk hero aspect of the story and makes the scenes with Dillinger himself (an uninspired Johnny Depp) the least engaging.

But it's a hard movie to give up on. Just when you are ready to throw in the popcorn bucket, there's Peter Gerety, making maximum use of his minimal screen tie as Dillinger's attorney. Or Stephen Lang, who gets some sharp late-in-the-game moments as a cop, hinting at the major supporting actor he could and should be. Lily Taylor, Giovanni Ribisi, and others keep circling in and disappearing too quickly. They breath life into "Public Enemies" while, at the same time, reminding us of what this rambling 140-minute exercise could have been.

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