Public Enemies opens up on a prison where John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is being held. Dillinger has already made a name for himself as a bank robber. He’s a celebrity throughout the nation, and he’s got friends. A lot of friends, which is how he breaks out of prison on multiple occasions.
It seems like nothing can hold Dillinger back. He’s rampaging across the U.S. holding up banks. Steadily a legend about the man grows. He takes on a sort of mythical aspect. He tells people to keep their money that he’s only there for the bank’s money. Stories like this only fuel the myth of the man.
Depp plays Dillinger with a cocky arrogance, which after all the History Channel specials and all the material I’ve read of him, seems pretty accurate. He felt untouchable. Like a rockstar in his own right. He’s brazen and daring, but he isn’t stupid. He knows how to manipulate people. He plans prison escapes and bank robberies to perfection. He’s a legend in his own mind, and it’s fun to watch Depp give it all he’s got.
At the same time Dillinger is plundering the nation’s banks, the FBI and a man named Hoover (Billy Crudup) are trying to make a name for themselves. Hoover is trying to establish the FBI as the nation’s bureau of investigation. Many congressmen and senators seem more the skeptical about it actually working.
This newly formed federal investigative unit needs something big, and catching Dillinger would solidify their place. Hoover appoints a young agent in charge of catching Dillinger and his gang. Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is much tougher than his name would suggest. Fresh off his finding and killing of outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd, Purvis assembles a team of agents to hunt down Dillinger.
Dillinger falls for a young French girl named Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard). It’s possession at first sight. Dillinger, so cocky and sure of himself, basically informs Billie that she is now his. But, he does it with such bravado and finesse that it’s hard not to agree with him.