Though it's as historically accurate as, say, Mobsters (that ill-fated attempt to recapture Young Guns glory by featuring of-the-moment young actors playing dress up as very famous young criminals), Public Enemies is nonetheless paced, structured, shot and plotted with the same attention for which Mann has been known in films like Collateral, The Insider, Thief and, perhaps most thematically and structurally similar, Heat.
Sprawling and visually handsome as its lead actors (Johnny Depp as notorious bank robber John Dillinger and Christian Bale as G-man Melvin Purvis),Public Enemies may not be a deep rumination of last vestiges of outlaw crime during the Great Depression, but as summer entertainment, it is as welcome and comforting as sand between the toes, especially since we've been finding it in our shorts for weeks now with such abrasive releases like Land of the Lost, Transformers 2 and Terminator Salvation.
Enemies opens with Dillinger at the peak of his career, bounding over bank countertops (a move that earned him the nickname “The Jack Rabbit”) and sliding in and out with precision as well as manners (“I'm here for the bank's money, not yours,” he tells a quivering customer.). He's as caught up in his own celebrity as the public, favoring fancy threads and living in the moment.
When we are briefly introduced to what will be his muse in the film (if not real life), it is easy to be fearful that the role of Billie Frichettte (played by Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard) will be one that is merely whimpering arm candy, and to an extent it is. Until the film's finale, in which Mann structures her to be the fuel that feeds the fire of Dillinger's final days.
The film flirts with the “other side” of the law, highlighting newly anointed FBI agent Purvis, working directly under J. Edgar Hoover (played with clench-jawed crispness by Billy Crudup) whose career is pinned upon bringing Dillinger and his goons are brought to justice. But Mann knows that it's fun being bad and gives Depp dialogue that he delivers with the same Jack Sparrow sparkle that endeared him to audiences three times over in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.