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No one could stop John Dillinger and his gang. No jail could hold him. His charm and audacious jailbreaks endeared him to almost everyone -- from his girlfriend Billie Frechette to a public who had no sympathy for the banks that had plunged the country into the Depression. But while the adventures of Dillinger' gang -- later including Baby Face Nelson and Alvin Karpis -- thrilled many, J. Edgar Hoover made Dillinger the first Public Enemy Number One and sent in Melvin Purvis, the dashing "Clark Gable of the FBI." However, Dillinger and his gang outwitted and outgunned Purvis' men in wild chases and shootouts. Only after importing a crew of Western ex-lawmen (newly baptized as agents) and orchestrating epic betrayals -- from the infamous "Lady in Red" to the Chicago crime boss Frank Nitti -- were Purvis, the FBI and their new crew of gunfighters able to close in on Dillinger.
For more about Public Enemies and the Public Enemies Blu-ray release, see Public Enemies Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on December 2, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Channing Tatum, David Wenham, Stephen Dorff
Director: Michael Mann (I)
» See full cast & crew
Public Enemies Blu-ray Review
Mann's barebones period piece turns out to be an enthralling character drama...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, December 2, 2009
Filmmaker Michael Mann has built his career on adversarial relationships. In Manhunter, a former FBI agent is forced to consult with one serial killer to catch another, madmen whose twisted intellects rival yet repulse his own. In Heat, a volatile detective is in pursuit of a meticulous master thief, a man who under different circumstances could have easily been a close friend. In The Insider, a whistle blower has little choice but to turn to a shrewd reporter for help, a journalist whose handling of the story gives him pause. In Collateral, a good-natured cabbie has to outwit a hitman intent on using him as a pawn, polar opposites stuck on a path toward mutual self-destruction. In Miami Vice, the director's iconic detectives have to venture deep within the criminal underworld in an effort to further cleanse a city they've sworn to protect. And so we come to Public Enemies. Both a rapidfire period piece and an intriguing glimpse into lawman Melvin Purvis' hunt for notorious criminal John Dillinger, Mann's latest film deals with strikingly similar themes, relationships, and conflicts. Thankfully, the accomplished director avoids repeating himself, once again delivering an engrossing dual-character study that's often as captivating as it is intense.
1933. The Great Depression, after ravaging a despondent American economy, begins taking its toll on a populous now fraught with despair. It's in these desperate times that John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) -- bank robber, murderer, and hard-edged opportunist -- retreats to Chicago in the hopes that the local mafia will shelter him from the law. Elsewhere, a soft-spoken Bureau of Investigation agent named Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is asked to hunt down Dillinger by none other than J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) himself. Hoover is as much an opportunist as Dillinger, but Purvis agrees, with the concession that the Bureau Director assign him a team of skilled agents. Using groundbreaking investigation techniques that seem positively quaint by today's standards, the persistent lawman succeeds in capturing Dillinger, a triumph quickly undermined by the penal system's failure to hold onto him. But after such a daring, high-profile escape, Dillinger finds his mafia connections in Chicago have turned their backs, leaving him to rely on his own wits and loyal gang members, including confidant and close friend John "Red" Hamilton (Brotherhood's talented Jason Clarke). In true Michael Mann style, Purvis and Dillinger are in constant opposition. While the two only appear together in a handful of scenes, each man's presence is continually felt by the other. It all leads to a climactic but tragic third act in which bullets fly, bodies fall, and lives are altered forever.
Like Pacino and De Niro in Heat, Depp and Bale bring such nuance and thoughtfulness to their separate roles that criticism about Mann's decision to forgo historical context and character origins is ultimately rendered moot. Public Enemies opens with events well underway and never pauses to fill in the blanks a more traditional period film would, but it forces viewers to focus solely on the men at the heart of the tale. The era is simply a component of the setting, the weathered warriors at its center are what Mann truly cares about. It's an interesting direction, one that will certainly leave some filmfans in a foul mood, but it effectively transforms Purvis and Dillinger into towering titans; incarnations of the straight-and-narrow and the bent-and-distended who seem to follow their paths because they aren't equipped to do anything else. To that end, Depp and Bale deliver bold, unexpectedly delicate and sophisticated performances that allow the actors to disappear within their characters. Depp sizzles with sharp wit, brazen gestures, and measured outbursts. His Dillinger is a refreshingly honest criminal, prone to loyalty and love, but is never presented as the folk hero so many considered him to be at the time. It's clear a flick of his wrist could end the life of anyone in his way, and his true motivations are rarely called into question. By contrast, Bale simmers with quiet frustration and stoic resolve. His reserved performance could easily be mistaken for apathy, but further examination reveals just how committed to portraying Purvis as he really was becomes oh-so-apparent. Bale is a chameleon by trade and his mastery of his craft is a sight to behold.
Still, I can't help but feel Mann squandered several perfect opportunities to push things further. Crudup, after establishing Hoover as a third cog in the director's at-times profound character drama, all but disappears, leaving many a stone unturned that would have added another dimension to the film. The same is true of actress Marion Cotillard and her moving performance as the love of Dillinger's late life, Billie Frechette. Her scenes are stunning, but her appearances are few. As for the story, I enjoyed being dropped into the middle of a mounting manhunt and being asked to find my own bearings. However, Mann takes little time to establish the atmosphere of the Great Depression. For such a hopeless era, he doesn't devote enough screentime to the average people who supposedly found Dillinger so fascinating. Too many dots are left unconnected; facets that would have made the story more cohesive, resonant, and relevant. Even so, I can't help but be smitten with Public Enemies as it is. With a smartly penned screenplay, commanding performances, gorgeous cinematography, a memorable score, and a slew of startling shootouts, it's a film I'll revisit again soon.
Public Enemies Blu-ray, Video Quality
As he did with Collateral and Miami Vice, Mann shot the majority of Public Enemies with high definition cameras. The resulting image boasts greater detail and more revealing delineation, sure, but it also suffers from a harsh, digitized sheen (rife with shimmering hair and underbrush) that, at times, seems at complete odds with the subjects and era at hand. Still, regardless of one's appreciation or distaste for Mann's decision, it's difficult to deny the quality of Univeral's 1080p/VC-1 transfer. Colors, though regularly bathed in warm oranges and crisp whites, are rich and rewarding, skintones are convincing, and blacks are nearly bottomless. Likewise, textures are incredibly refined (particularly in close-ups) and foreground objects pop, lending the presentation a series of striking, occasionally jaw-dropping showcase shots. It helps that artifacting, banding, and crush are never an issue (well, aside from a lingering red light haunted by macroblocking), and source noise, while a bit more intrusive in some scenes (the worst of which occurs during a late-night shootout and subsequent car chase), isn't a significant problem.
My only legitimate complaint? As seems to be the case with many a Universal transfer, edge enhancement has been applied liberally, cursing high-contrast sequences and wide shots with obvious, sometimes distracting ringing. It certainly doesn't spoil the proceedings, but it does hinder the overall impact of Dante Spinotti's razor-sharp photography, even if ever so slightly. All things considered, the Blu-ray edition of Public Enemies remains quite faithful to Mann's vision and should please fans accordingly.
Public Enemies Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Let me cut to the chase. Public Enemies storms Blu-ray with a thundering yet nuanced DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track; one that renders gunfire as deafening and frightening as it should be. Unlike Transformers 2, G.I. Joe, and other Bay-inspired modern mixes, Mann's film draws listeners in with subtly and silence before assaulting them with roaring shotgun blasts and spewing Tommy Guns. The LFE channel is tremendously successful, imbuing everything from shootouts to the swell of Elliot Goldenthal's score with genuine presence. I wouldn't watch this one if anyone in your house is hoping to get some sleep. Even so, dialogue is clean and intelligible, rear speaker activity is involving, and the soundfield continually wraps its burly arms around all those in the vicinity. Pans are just as proficient; effects practically dance from speaker to speaker. Granted, directionality is a tad spotty and several scenes are strangely front-heavy (Dillinger's first press conference is surprisingly two-dimensional), but interior acoustics are, more often than not, believable (especially when it comes to the film's prisons, banks, and hotels). Even though some viewers will need to keep their fingers hovering over the volume buttons on their remotes, it's difficult to deny that Public Enemies sounds fantastic. Enjoy, dear readers, enjoy.
Public Enemies Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Public Enemies serves up a generous collection of supplemental features, all of which are presented in high definition. Better still, Universal has gone beyond the confines of the standard DVD edition's content and added quite a few quality exclusives to the package, chief among them a rewarding Picture-in-Picture track. BD-Live functionality, My Scenes bookmarking, D-Box support, and a Digital Copy round out the set. A feature-length Purvis/Dillinger documentary would have left a bigger grin on my face, but I was happy with the set nonetheless.
Public Enemies Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While impressions of Public Enemies will vary wildly, Mann has delivered another memorable dual-character study, this one set during the equally fascinating era of the Great Depression. What it lacks in context and depth, it acquires with visceral imagery and exceptional performances; where it fails to provide insight, it offers sincerity and conviction. Universal's Blu-ray release is just as impressive, presenting fans with a strong video transfer, a booming DTS-HD Master Audio track, and a healthy batch of supplemental features. I couldn't ask for much more.
Public Enemies: Other Editions
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Public Enemies Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - December 8th - December 8, 2009
When the Harry Potter film series concludes in 2011, star Daniel Radcliffe will have aged 10 years since first appearing as the young sorcerer and, if the films' success continues, generated over $9B in world-wide box office receipts. Today, the sixth film in the ...
• Public Enemies Blu-ray Announced - October 15, 2009
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that it will release 'Public Enemies' on Blu-ray on December 8, day-and-date with the DVD. This crime movie, directed by Michael Mann, is inspired by infamous outlaw John Dilliger (Johnny Depp) and the FBI agent ...
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