This severely underrated Johnny Depp film is owning Netflix
BY MIKE FLOORWALKER/MAY 20, 2020 3:12 PM EDT
A minor classic from over a decade ago is finding new life on Netflix.
The streamer has released its Top Ten list for this week, and while there were a goodly number of holdovers from last week, there were also a few surprises. Perhaps the biggest: The appearance of Public Enemies, the 2009 historical drama centered on the final years of the infamous bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), all the way up at #3.
It's been fascinating to watch the comings and goings of all of the Netflix originals, animated flicks, and half-remembered theatrical features of yesteryear since the Top Ten list was rolled out by Netflix in February of this year. The streamer famously doesn't release its viewership numbers, but with the new feature, we at least have some idea of what our friends and neighbors are feverishly binging at a time when in-home entertainment is as critical to our leisure time and mental health as it has ever been.
Gracing the Top Ten this week are the Netflix original flicks The Wrong Missy at #1 and John Henry at #5, along with the family animated features The Willoughbys at #6, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa at #7, and The Grinch at #10 (yes, we double-checked that; no, we're not sure what to make of it either, since it's nowhere near Christmas). The documentary Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics sits at #9, and then there are the surprises: The unheralded 2012 French sci-fi actioner Lockout at #8, the 2011 sports drama Soul Surfer at #2, and Public Enemies at #3. While the flick was a minor commercial success upon its release, it didn't exactly set the world on fire — which is honestly a bit puzzling, because its pedigree is nothing short of sterling.
Public Enemies has a great director and a fantastic cast
If you're not familiar with the work of Michael Mann, then you've got some movies to watch, and Public Enemies is as good a place as any to start. The film features the veteran director working at the absolute top of his game, calling the shots for legendary cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who has shot several of Mann's films, including Manhunter, Heat, and The Insider. Much has been made of the fact that the flick is a period piece shot on hi-def video, which on its surface is an odd choice, but Spinotti is a fan of the format, and he's also an absolute master at saturating his frames with vivid colors and inky dark spaces. This film looks fantastic, and it also benefits from Mann's deliberate, yet fleet, pacing.
Then, there's the cast, which is simply jaw-dropping. Depp crushes it in the role of Dillinger; he's joined by Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari) as FBI agent Melvin Purvis, Marion Cotillard (Inception) as Dillinger's girlfriend, Billie Frechette, Billy Crudup (Alien: Covenant) as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and Stephen Lang (Don't Breathe) as Charles Winstead, the Texas lawman who fatally shot Dillinger. Even the minor roles are filled with ringers: Stephen Dorff (True Detective) appears as Homer Van Meter, Jason Clarke (First Man) pops up as Red Hamilton, Giovanni Ribisi (Sneaky Pete) appears as Alvin Karpis, and none other than Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky) portrays Pretty Boy Floyd.
Public Enemies has been better regarded in recent years
Public Enemies received mixed reviews during its theatrical run, with some reviewers noting that the flick lacked the tension and drama that they had expected from Mann (whose Heat is among the more tense films ever made). Those critics who recommended the film, however saw it for what it was: An exhaustively researched, incredibly detailed film sporting great performances from top to bottom.
Of course, it was Depp who was singled out for the most praise. In his review of the film, the great Roger Ebert wrote, "This Johnny Depp performance is something else. For once an actor playing a gangster does not seem to base his performance on movies he has seen. He starts cold. He plays Dillinger as a Fact... This is a very good film, with Depp and Bale performances of brutal clarity."
In marking the film's tenth anniversary last year, some critics opined that it was time for a serious reappraisal of Public Enemies, which seems to be a recurring theme with Mann's filmography. One such piece in the Washington Post astutely pointed out that very few of the director's films have been instant smashes upon release, as their distinct style of craftsmanship seems to take awhile to "marinate in the public consciousness."
Perhaps this is why, with so many of us stuck at home and on the prowl for something really great to watch, the flick is finally getting its due.