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File:Public Enemies 1.jpg


1933: Franklin Roosevelt takes the office of President of the United States, the country is mired in the greatest economic calamity in living memory, and millions are out of work. From this atmosphere of anger at The Man emerges one of the most legendary criminals of all time: bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). Dillinger and his gang of outlaws become antiheroes for much of the disgruntled public.

The film opens with Dillinger and his best friend John "Red" Hamilton breaking a group of allies out of Indiana's state penitentiary. But the recently-established FBI, headed by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), is on the case, hungry for publicity in order to win over skeptical voices in Congress. Special Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is assigned to track down Dillinger. Dillinger, meanwhile, takes time out of his busy schedule to romance a hatcheck girl named Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).

Director Michael Mann's newest movie returns once again to the crime genre that he so loves (Manhunter, Heat, Collateral), though also being, obviously, another of his period pieces (The Last of the Mohicans, Ali).


Tropes used in Public Enemies include:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Branka Katic and the woman she played, Anna Sage, the "Lady in Red".
    • Also, the actual John Dillinger wasn't nearly as comely as Johnny Depp (generally the case when Johnny Depp portrays a real-life person.)
  • Affably Evil: Dillinger is handsome, charming, and won't hesitate to smash your face against a hard surface if you stand between him and something he wants.
  • Artistic License: Though the film is arguably one of the more accurate adaptations of this period, it still takes some liberties.
  • Badass: Christian Bale vs Johnny Depp, nuff said.
  • Badass Longcoat: Most of the characters in the film wear one. Especially Dillinger and his gang during the bank robberies, to conceal their guns.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Dillinger and his gang are criminals; J. Edgar Hoover is, well, J. Edgar Hoover, and some of his men are violently thuggish.
  • Chewbacca Defense: Dillinger's lawyer manages to keep him out of the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City by saying that Sheriff Lillian Holley is a woman, and therefore afraid that she can't keep him locked up in minimum security, because she's a woman. "I'm not afraid!" The judge immediately concludes that means she thinks Dillinger should stay in Crown Point. Court adjourned. Dillinger can now carve the wooden pistol and escape with ease.
    • It's worth noting that the exchange between Dillinger's lawyer and Sheriff Lillian Holley is verbatim of the real court transcript. Of course, whether Dillinger really carved the wooden pistol himself or had it smuggled in is unknown. Some say that Louis Piquett or Art O'Leary smuggled it into the prison instead.
  • Convenient Slow Dance: "Bye Bye Blackbird" comes just at the right moment. For both John and Billie, the song will remain a cherished memory.
  • The Danza: A rare case with an actor playing a historical person: Johnny Depp as John Dillinger.
  • Death by Cameo: Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd.
  • Estrogen Brigade Bait: Hello? The film has both Christian Bale and Johnny Depp!
  • Even Badasses Have Standards: Purvis finds the "interrogation" of Frechette horrific (though see Wouldn't Hit a Girl below for the hypocrisy of this). He steps in at the insistence of his secretary Doris Rogers.
    • Diilinger doesn't want to get into the kidnapping business, as he expresses when Karpis mentions the upcoming kidnapping of Edward Bremer. On January 17, 1934, the Barker-Karpis gang went through with this kidnapping, two days after Dillinger's East Chicago bank robbery.
  • Famous Last Words: Dillinger's last whispers are unknown; Mann takes a guess here.
  • Film Noir: Features Manhattan Melodrama, the Clark Gable movie that Dillinger saw at the Biograph on the night he died.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Dillinger and all his friends die.
  • Genre Savvy: Charles Winstead. His knowledge of tropes is what leads them to finally kill Dillinger.
  • Guns Akimbo: Dilliger uses two pistols when holding up banks. One to aim at the manager unlocking the safe, another to control the people in the lobby. Never shoots with them, though. You can see this in the first two bank robberies, though in the first one, one of them is a Thompson submachine gun.
    • Also seen when Dillinger and Red come into Frank Nitti's Outfit. Red is brandishing twin Tommy Guns, for god's sake!
      • This Troper remembers thinking "Wow, he must be ripped." Tommy guns are heavy.
        • He'd have to be pretty strong to be able to use the handguns he's got one handed. Those are Colt M1911A1's he's firing. They pack a pretty hefty punch.
  • Hero Antagonist: Melvin Purvis and J. Edgar Hoover.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The summary of Purvis' story arc. You can clearly see in Bale's performance each time he compromises his values for the sake of getting the job done.
  • Hollywood History: For a movie directly based on a non-fiction book, they twist around events and people quite a bit, or cut things out.
    • A minor point is that Dillinger dies after Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson in the film, whereas in Real Life he died first. Floyd was gunned down October 22, 1934 in East Liverpool, Ohio, and Nelson died in a shootout on November 27, 1934 in Barrington, Illinois.
    • Floyd, too, was allegedly shot after being disarmed, though this is a more controversial account. The Feds were actually worse than they were in the movie (though Purvis himself was perhaps a bit better). The account that Mann seems to use is the FBI account, which states that Floyd was shot by a sniper from a great distance. Here, the film gives that role to Purvis. The film also uses the real Purvis's claim that he kicked a pistol out of Floyd's hand.
    • Other issues are things like the September 26 mass breakout from Michigan City, which Dillinger was not present in (he was imprisoned in Lima, Ohio at the time). He spent June of 1933 robbing banks so that he could arrange to smuggle the guns into the prison - some accounts state that he tossed the guns over the wall while others say he smuggled them in boxes of thread sent to the prison shirt factory (which is shown in the film, and may have even been the actual case, since Dillinger's first attempt at smuggling the guns involved tossing them over the wall, only to be turned over to the warden). Dillinger was also relatively unknown before the mass breakout, except to the Indiana State Police.
      • According to Bryan Borrough's book, the escapees took the guards hostage with the guns, then paraded them into the administration building, while fooling the tower guards into thinking that the prisoners were just being escorted by the day captain. Four of them escaped by taking a visiting sheriff hostage in his car, while Pete Pierpont and his group stole a car from a gas station across the street. Only a clerk was injured, shot in the leg. There was no instance at all of a guard being beaten to death, another being shot, or a shootout between the escapees and the guards on the wall.
    • Dillinger kills 17 people in the film, but in truth the only person he is believed to have killed is William Patrick O'Malley, a police officer shot and killed during Dillinger's robbery of the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana on January 15, 1934.
    • Billie Frechette's arrest happens after the shootout at Little Bohemia Lodge. In reality it was the opposite.
    • Little Bohemia is shown as being used by the gang as a hideout after a disastrous bank robbery in Sioux Falls, completely skipping over the gang's robbery of the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa; Dillinger, Billie and Van Meter's narrow escape from police in St. Paul on April 1st; and a visit to Hamilton's sister before Little Bohemia.
    • Purvis and his men are pursuing Dillinger in the first half of the film. In reality, the FBI did not join the manhunt until after Dillinger escaped Crown Point.
  • Implacable Man: Baby-Face Nelson, the trigger happy.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The cops use this at a couple of points.
  • Jittercam appears several times in the movie.
  • Just Train Wrong: The producers decided to show a train arriving in Chicago carrying Agent Winstead. While Milwaukee Road #261 and its cars in their orange and maroon livery could be reasonably explained, the locomotive is anachronistic to the 1933 setting of the film. Alco did not build that particular locomotive until 1944.
  • Moral Dissonance: The G-Mens' deduction methods include torturing a man dying in a hospital and beating up women. These agents would have been fired for this in the 21st century.
  • More Dakka: Everybody's got submachine guns, and boy do they use them (killing surprisingly few people in the process)..
  • Retired Badass: Sort of; Purvis concludes that his crew of young, educated types aren't up to the task of catching Dillinger, and insists on bringing in a group of hardened oldsters from Texas and Oklahoma, much to Hoover's annoyance, because they're just the kind of guys he wants to get away from using.
  • Retirony: Subverted, though, in that he is not killed in the middle of his last big score, but gunned down by the police on the night before; of course, that's what actually happened.
  • Shown Their Work: Dillinger's death scene, right down to the location of the bullets that kill him (the fatal bullet being fired by Winstead, entering Dillinger through the back of his head, severing his spinal cord, tearing through his brain, and exiting out the front of his forehead above his right eye). They even redressed a few blocks of street to recreate the 1934 atmosphere of the Biograph.
    • Although Nelson was not actually killed at Little Bohemia, the fact that he managed to stand up and continue firing even as he was pummelled with bullets is true.
    • The producers, several times, tried as much as they could to film on-location. Crown Point Jail, and Little Bohemia Lodge are all the real deal here. At Little Bohemia, you can even see the old bullet holes from the shootout.
  • Shout-Out: Dillinger says to a bank customer, "You can put it away. I'm not here for your money, I'm here for the bank's." But this is an Older Than They Think case, because Dillinger was quoted as having said these words during his January 15, 1934 robbery of the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Played straight in that the bank manager taken hostage in the first bank robbery doesn't even flinch despite two men firing automatic rifles simultaneously just feet from his head.
  • Sympathetic Criminal: John Dillinger.
  • The Syndicate: Obviously. Frank Nitti's reluctance to help Dillinger is accurate, too. This contrasted him from Al Capone, who was known to provide protection to bank robbers and outlaws.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Purvis's men, literally.
  • Train Job: Dillinger and company discuss one of these early on in the film with Alvin Karpis. They never get around to it, though.
  • Trigger Happy: Baby-Face Nelson. He was like this in real life too. For example, in the Sioux Falls robbery, both in the movie and in real life, Nelson, upon seeing a motorcycle cop named Hale Keith pulling up alongside the bank, leaped onto a low railing and let loose a deafening burst of gunfire through a plate glass window that severely wounded the cop, then screamed "I got one!"
  • Trojan Prisoner: The jailbreak in the opening scene. Dillinger and Hamilton infiltrate the prison by making it look like a prison drop.
  • Villain Protagonist: John Dillinger
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl :Subtly deconstructed; a G-Man has a brutal interrogation of a female suspect and is seen as crossing the Moral Event Horizon by Purvis and the others... but it is heavily implied there is a touch of hypocrisy here and they would have no problem with him doing the same and more to a male suspect.
    • Implied? I think you forgot the interrogation of Tommy Carroll. The man was shot in the back of the head with the bullet lodged above his right eye. The police refused to give him any medication, in fact agitating the wound by pressing down on his eye, until he told the police what they wanted. Purvis, while not doing the actual torture, restrained the doctor from trying to give him any sort of medication or sedative until they got what they wanted out of him, threatening to run him in for obstruction of justice if he tried to intervene. Although it should be noted that said type of bullet wound was actually given to a different Dillinger gang member, Eddie Green, not Tommy Carroll, and it was not during a robbery.
      • But, at the same time, take into account that Tommy Carroll was a member of Dillinger's posse and was guilty, whereas Billie had, first of all, a delicate personality (at least in the film), and, secondly, was mostly unaware of Dillinger's acts that got her arrested. But Billie might have known that Dillinger was a bank robber, and Bryan Borrough's book states that Billie was involved during several attempts by police to arrest Dillinger, including a car chase by police in November 1933, where Billie was in the passenger seat and Dillinger was driving as police fired on their car. Then, at the end of March 1934, in St. Paul, an FBI agent and a St. Paul detective stopped by an apartment that Billie and Dillinger had rented under an alias name, and Billie tipped off Dillinger to the presence of the police, who had responded on a suspicious behavior complaint by the building manager. Billie was there when Dillinger and Van Meter opened fire on two detectives.
  • You Must Be Cold: Dillinger does this twice: once to a hostage bank teller and once to Billie. Both times, he hands these girls coats. All of it is Truth in Television as this was considered one of Dillinger's more renowned trademarks. It helps contrast him from Baby Face Nelson (see the Sioux Falls robbery).
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