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Johnny Depp and Christian Bale face off in director Michael Mann’s 1930s biographical crime drama Public Enemies.

DVD Review: Public Enemies (Two-Disc Special Edition)

“We’re too good for ‘em.”

Johnny Depp stars as John Dillinger, an expert bank robber who underestimates lawman Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and the FBI in director Michael Mann’s 1930s biographical action film.

Audiences get a better picture of this “modern-day Robin Hood” on a wild ride, especially as the non-traditional plot mirrors Dillinger’s erratic, crime-filled life. Mann naturally focuses the film on Dillinger’s lawless antics and how it affected everyone involved while entertaining audiences with a star-filled cast and great action sequences.

J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) backs up Purvis while Dillinger gets support from Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff), Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham). Crudup gets a nice showcase as a driven Hoover relentlessly extinguishes any obstacles preventing a Dillinger capture after an embarrassing status hearing in front of Congress. Purvis remains steadfast in his beliefs, but slowly discovers how bending the rules affects his honorable sense of duty.

Depp’s appealing persona matches well with Bale’s quiet, intelligent portrayal. Creative liberties produce a fictitious scene in a jail so their relationship develops further through some direct contact. Other historical facts (the order of criminal deaths, Dillinger’s last words, etc.) also shift in the plot.

Dillinger luckily finds Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), who provides another emotional base in the plot. Her involvement gives audiences a strong perspective between the famous robbers and a budding FBI division.

As the growing reality and subsequent manhunt quell their ambitious international dreams, Dillinger and Frechette both grow into a simple love shaped by Dillinger’s own sense of misdirected duty. Dillinger eagerly defends Frechette, but breaks the law to do it.

Dillinger also faithfully sticks by his thieving associates until a key scene, which begins his shift into isolation. Dillinger always realizes his situation, but Frechette’s pleadings expedite some more hopeful goals until the stark “turnover” of his associates eventually push him into comfortable familiarity, which puts him in unnecessary danger, and willful naivety.

Mann co-wrote the screenplay with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman with adapted material from the book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough. Detailed actions grow from each situation as they happen without dates or flashbacks. Mann even includes how Dillinger’s high-profile exploits affect other crime business during the era.

In the extra content, Mann’s input feels like a film-school video. His commentary is an amazing extra feature, which alone provides enough reason to purchase this set, but there are many more great featurettes on both discs.

In “Larger than Life: Adversaries”, Depp and Bale discuss their performances while “On Dillinger’s Trail: The Real Locations” compare film setting with the real settings. The 20-minute “Making Public Enemies” helps viewers understand the 1930s even better as “Last of the Legendary Outlaws” provides insight into Dillinger’s life and popularity.

Mann shoots the film in high-definition video, so smooth, hand-held shots from multiple points-of-view enhance the realism without making the audience queasy from too many movements.

Mann also fills the screen with authentic props, vintage automobiles and great costume design. History buffs and antique lovers need repeat viewings of the film plus these special features to catch all the detailed elements and biographical information behind the film.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds impressive, ranging from natural sounds in wood settings to the crackling firepower of the tommy gun shootouts. Language and subtitles choices are available in English, French, and Spanish. This two-disc set also includes digital copy and a feature length audio track for the blind. Recommended and rated R for gangster violence, an interrogation scene, and some language. Also available in Blu-ray and single disc edition.

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