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 areÂ effective but far too-few moments betweenÂ G-man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and his boss J. Edgar Hoover (Billy
Crudup). Unlike Dillinger, these guys at least haveÂ overridingÂ 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
andÂ Michael Mann’s distracting direction,Â 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,Â making
maximum use of his minimal screen tie as Dillinger’s attorney. Or Stephen Lang, whoÂ gets some sharpÂ 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. TheyÂ breath life into “Public Enemies” while, at the same time,Â reminding us of whatÂ thisÂ rambling
140-minute exerciseÂ could have been.