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John Dillinger

John Dillinger

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Depp's 'Public Enemies': Dillinger captured at last Updated | Comment | Recommend E-mail | Save | Print | EnlargeUniversal StudiosJohnny Depp plays the brazen and enigmatic bank robber who ran circles around the law.

ABOUT THE MOVIEPublic Enemies* * * out of fourStars: Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard, Christian Bale, Billy CrudupDirector: Michael MannDistributor: Universal PicturesRating: R for gangster violence and some languageRunning time: 2 hours, 2 minutesOpens today nationwideBy Claudia Puig, USA TODAY Public Enemies is a welcome adult alternative to summer's sophomoric blockbusters.

The only transforming going on here is actors skillfully taking on roles of '30s-era gangsters and lawmen.Director Michael Mann (The Insider) mounts a technically proficient, visually enthralling crime drama anchored by the low-key but captivating performance of Johnny Depp as legendary bank robber John Dillinger.Christian Bale is one-note as Melvin Purvis, the lead FBI agent on the case.

His efforts to nab Dillinger are juxtaposed against the fugitive's cocky bravura in outwitting teams of law enforcement.Dillinger seems impervious to capture, cleverly escaping when outgunned and surrounded, dodging flurries of bullets and brazenly taunting the authorities by hiding in plain sight.

A memorable scene features an almost impish Dillinger sitting in a crowded theater while a newsreel projects his larger-than-life image on the big screen.

Some might be put off by the high-definition photography and handheld-camera shots, but it suits the story, which is anchored in historical accuracy.The production design, costumes and evocative score add to the film's sense of authenticity.

The tale is no biopic.

Mann avoids armchair psychology, forgoing childhood flashbacks and focusing tightly on a distinct period in Dillinger's life.

Shortly after the film introduces Dillinger, he falls in love with Billie Frechette, a beautiful hat-check girl played by Marion Cotillard.Depp and Cotillard have palpable chemistry; their romantic scenes are some of the movie's finest.Depp plays the glamorous Dillinger with a subtly simmering charm while avoiding theatricality.

Mann photographs him in tight close-ups, which heighten his appeal.

But Dillinger remains enigmatic.

Billy Crudup as the histrionic FBI head J.

Edgar Hoover is perfectly pitched.Regarded as a latter-day Robin Hood, Dillinger was a folk hero to the masses.

He often insisted he robbed banks but not the common man.

In addition to being timely in its depiction of banks as symbols of villainy, Mann's story is a commentary about the ineptitude of law enforcement.

An action film that feels like an epic, Public Enemies is an exciting and stylish slice of Americana.

Though the film may leave viewers wanting to know more about the iconic gangster, it is clearly intended to be a slice — the most exciting portion — of the Indiana-born bank robber's life.

(Rated R for gangster violence and some language.

Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes.

Opens today nationwide.)Posted Updated E-mail | Save | Print | To report corrections and clarifications, contact Reader Editor Brent Jones.

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