PUBLIC ENEMIES tracks the career of John Dillinger—“the greatest bank robber in American history,” according to director Michael Mann--and the simultaneous rise of J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation, soon to become the F.B.I. Based on Bryan Burrough’s 2004 book, PUBLIC ENEMIES: AMERICA’S GREATEST CRIME WAVE AND THE BIRTH OF THE F.B.I., 1933-34, the movie follows Dillinger (Johnny Depp) from one daring bank robbery to another, including frenetic gun battles and hair-raising narrow escapes. Along the way, Dillinger wins the heart of Billie Frechette, played by Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, and eludes the pursuit of dogged G-man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) . . . until one fateful night in July 1934.
Filming of PUBLIC ENEMIES began in Columbus, Wisconsin on March 17, 2008 and concluded at the Santa Anita racetrack in California on June 30, 2008, only a few hours before the Screen Actors Guild contract expired. During those three-and-a-half months, the production criss-crossed the Midwest, often shooting in the exact locations where the events occurred: for example, Crown Point jail in Indiana, the Little Bohemia Lodge in northern Wisconsin, and the street outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater where Dillinger met his fate. Dozens of local extras contributed their unique faces to Michael Mann’s beautifully composed frames, bringing Midwestern grit and authenticity to this American fable of guns, fame and desperation.
New York Times critic Manohla Dargis calls PUBLIC ENEMIES “a grave and beautiful work of art” that “looks and plays like no other American gangster film I can think of.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times says, “The beauty and skill of the filmmaking keeps you tightly in its grasp [. . . .] Mann’s attention to nominally small things, his insistence that every detail be authentic, [. . .] lends a sense of rightness to the entire endeavor. PUBLIC ENEMIES [is] so real it seems to transcend its period and exist out of time.”
Such glowing reviews would have delighted John Dillinger, who loved the movies--in fact, his disastrous encounter with FBI agents occurred as he left the Biograph Theater after watching 1930s box office king Clark Gable give a rousing performance as a good-hearted gangster modeled after—who else?—the charismatic Dillinger himself. Surely Dillinger would have relished being incarnated on the silver screen, seventy-five years after his demise, by Johnny Depp . . . not only a consummate actor, but also a public figure as beloved as Dillinger was in his heyday. And Johnny dedicated himself to doing Dillinger justice. “There’s a certain responsibility playing a guy,” Johnny told Douglas Brinkley in a 2009 interview. “You want to do him right [. . .]. You don’t want to let him down. He may be watching. So I don’t want to water down the integrity of the person I’m playing. I want to find its essence.”
The PUBLIC ENEMIES gallery is a communal effort; many Zone members graciously contributed scans, screencaps, and photographs. We extend our thanks to Bonnie, AnaMaria, dharma_bum, Hiro3, Joni, Sleepy, and Theresa.