Blu-ray Review: Public Enemies

I ended my theatrical review of Public Enemies with the following line:

I am leaving room for this one to grow on me or slowly settle down to the middle, but one thing's for certain, it had my wheels spinning and may likely end up an all-time classic of mine a few years down the line.

This is the approach I try to take to all films whether I like them out of the box or not, but this one in particular felt like a film that was either going to slowly attach itself or just die away quietly. My expectations, as with other Mann films such as Heat and Thief (unfortunately not Miami Vice), were that this one would improve upon repeated viewings and after watching Universal's Blu-ray release it does just that. As a matter of fact I no longer have any doubts as to this film's quality even if I think there is a better film to be made on the subject, but that isn't to say I believe an alternative film should be a complete departure.

It's my belief, had this film been about Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and his chase for Dillinger and where Purvis's life and career went after catching the notorious criminal, you would have had a much more cohesive story and one hell of an ending. Just look up the life of Melvin Purvis when you get a chance and you'll see what I mean. On top of that, you could still keep the majority of the great scenes from Public Enemies. Just a thought.

Focusing his attention on John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), Mann tells a story of a man with no eye for the future, at least not at the outset. Dillinger lives for today in hopes of having a good time tomorrow, how he gets there only depends on him and him alone. This makes for a cold atmosphere as Mann meticulously duplicates the 1930s all the way down to shooting in the actual locations for three of the film's key scenes, all three of which are discussed in this disc's special features. Rumors of disagreements between Mann and Depp made their rounds prior to and during the film's release and I can only assume after watching the special features Christian Bale had no such complaints.

One thing's for certain, and I get a similar feeling about David Fincher, Michael Mann loves authenticity and while the special features say Depp tried on a pair of Dillinger's pants, it seems Bale was far more interested in Mann's attention to detail. In one segment Bale is shown in photos at the house of Melvin Purvis's son, asking questions and searching to learn more about the man he was about to portray. Depp mentions a personal curiosity when it comes to Dillinger, but it seems both Bale and Mann go well beyond Depp's interest which is a particularly interesting insight into the making of Public Enemies you will get out of this Blu-ray.

As for this disc's features you get a rather comprehensive and well-designed batch of making-of featurettes as well as in-feature extras. On top of a rather exhaustive and informative commentary track from Mann you also get the feature length picture-in-picture U Control feature and an interactive historical timeline that plays along with the film. The timeline isn't packed with information, but it does come with some fascinating archival videos and information that should prove interesting to anyone looking for more background. The picture-in-picture offers behind-the-scenes video and interviews that aren't available elsewhere, which is a bit of a change up for Universal's U Control which typically offers edited down segments from the included featurettes.

The featurettes are mostly short, concise and to the point, which in my book is all good. Only one of them, "Michael Mann: Making Public Enemies," is over 20 minutes and it is the primary making of doc while the others are far more focused. The following four featurettes are no longer than 10 minutes each. "Last of the Legendary Outlaws" is specific to Dillinger while "Larger than Life: Adversaries" looks at the men that inspired the film. My favorites were easily "On Dillinger's Trail: The Real Locations," which gave a look at how they used the actual locations to recreate Dillinger's prison break, the shootout at Little Bohemia and the exterior of the Biograph theater. The other is "Criminal Technology," which looks at the weapons tech from the '30s as well as the cars the gangsters used and how they had the police outmatched as a result.

Finally there is a "Gangster Movie Challenge" offering up trivia questions for five of Universal's gangster titles including Public Enemies, American Gangster, Casino, Carlito's Way and Scarface.

In my opinion this is an obvious buy, but I enjoyed the movie in theaters and enjoyed it even more on Blu-ray. Shot in high definition Public Enemies looks brilliant on the format, but some people saw Mann's decision to shoot in HD as a drawback so that is up to your personal taste because nothing is lost on this transfer. It also makes use of a spectacular DTS audio track, which only enhances the terrific score by Elliot Goldenthal and the thundering mix of weaponry.

I have a few problems with this film, but I'm not here saying it's great, simply that it's a film I am happy is on my shelf space and recommend you consider adding to yours.

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  • Satish Naidu

    Public Enemies has a fascinating architecture – disjointed scenes in the first half capturing the series of events that start to close in, ever so slightly onto Dillinger. He was a state to state criminal, wreaking havoc in one for a time period and running away. He never thought what he did in one could get him in another. Yet it did, the Bureau of Investigation crawled their way around him. The narrative suggests thus, and as they draw closer and closer to him, it starts to get smoother – the Bureau finally connecting the missing dots. As that other crime masterpiece Zodiac created tension out of investigative procedures in office rooms, Michael Mann’s film creates not an action-set-piece but a procedural out of shootouts.

  • Satish Naidu

    I think Public Enemies is a masterpiece, and one of the greatest crime epics of all time. Beyond its authenticity, beyond its tension, beyond its romance, there’s a certain sadness among these men who surround these criminals, though I not know why. It is as if they are all walking towards their deaths, and they know it, and yet they shrug it. Here were men who were romantic enough to dream they could slide off the map despite being on the wrong side of the law. And behind them were detectives, two of them, who probably understood these men, caught them and killed them. And then what? Return to their desks? The final shot reveals two things – one of the men walking out of a door, and a note saying the other shot himself. The film seemed to be speaking straight to me. It always does in a Michael Mann film, in a Christopher Nolan film. But never has it happened that I couldn’t quite understand the enormity of what it was saying. I don’t know, but as I write this, my eyes seem to be swelling up. Public Enemies only grows with each viewing into some kind of beautiful dark haunted epic.

  • Satish Naidu

    I think there is a reason why Mann had Bale in mind for Purvis. And it is a triumph of casting. I say triumph because no actor can look dispassionate in the face of outrageous provocation better than Bale (courtesy: Roger Ebert’s review of Equilibrium). His pursed lips and his cold gaze seem like the absolute face of the Authority. He represents the System, and maybe, while catching up with Dillinger, he represents the equanimity of life. Mr. Bale plays it not like a character, but as an institution. Unprejudiced, unbiased and fair. Here is a man strong enough to stand in the face of someone of the influence of J. Edgar Hoover (Mr. Crudup in one of the film’s finest performances). When The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy were on the run, you might have wondered, alongwith the duo, what the faces of those relentless pursuers would look like. They would look like Mr. Bale’s and like Mr. Lang’s, who plays Purvis’ investigators Charles Winstead. Indefatigable in their purpose, and honorably so. These are two great performances, by Mr. Bale and Mr. Lang, for they dissolve so neatly into Michael Mann’s vision, and elevate it. There is not much room for emotion, for Michael Mann reveals nothing about the two men outside of their jobs. Singularity of vision is what guides them, and singularity of tone is what the filmmaking assumes when the detectives are on the screen. It is all brutally matter-of-fact, and one might wonder if these men had lives outside of the streets and offices during this one year to distract them.

  • GregM

    "... where Purvis's life and career went after catching the notorious criminal, you would have had a much more cohesive story and one hell of an ending."

    Sequel? Sequel!

  • pomme

    i always said Purvis was more interesting than Dillinger in "public enemies".Dillinger is only Depp with a nice hat whereas Purvis is a tormented puritan .
    Some people dislike Bale's acting because his Purvis isn't likeable but why Purvis could be likeable when he betrays his own belief.

  • Chris138

    Saw this movie twice in theaters, really enjoyed it both times and can't wait to own this movie today or sometime within the coming weeks.

    I also thought that Bale's character was much more interesting than Depp's in this film, which many others disagreed with me on. I thought Bale gave an underrated performance in it.

  • Steve Mott

    Didn't get a chance to catch it in the theater, however I have my Blu-ray copy on the way! Been looking forward to seeing this for a while now.

  • Matt C

    Brad, even in movie theaters "Public Enemies" looked like it was shot on video. That's what bothers me -- shooting it on 35mm as originally planned would've given the movie more authenticity in terms of feel.

  • Layne

    Loved this film and the performances of both Depp and Bale. Another film chronicling the life of Purvis would be most welcome. He's a fascinating character.

  • Danny King

    I would have loved to have seen this story told differently, and I agree that there is room for this subject to be improved upon, but this is still a terrific effort. If anyone tries to remake it, I doubt the people involved will match the caliber of Mann, Depp, Bale, and Cotillard.