Thursday, 10 November 2016

Public Enemies (3½ Stars)

This is the 27th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2009. Unfortunately she only has a small role and doesn't appear until the last 15 minutes. She plays Polly Hamilton, an escort girl accompanying John Dillinger at the time of his death.

The film is the true story of the bank robber John Dillinger in the last year of his life, 1933 to 1934. It's said that he was the most notorious bank robber in the Depression era. I confess to never having heard of him before I watched the film. He isn't part of my general knowledge, so whatever I write is based on what I saw in the film. I'll leave it to others to embellish my words and add remarks concerning the historical accuracy.

The film calls the early 1930's the golden age of bank robbing. I can understand it. It was an age of mass poverty. People were sleeping on the streets. The banks were considered the enemy, so gangs arose to take back the money they thought was rightfully theirs. John Dillinger had respect in the eyes of the public. He never robbed people in the banks, only the banks themselves. He never killed people while committing crimes. Maybe he wasn't as popular as Andreas Baader, who was admired by more than 25% of the German population, but he was still considered to be a hero by many suffering Americans.

Something that made it easier for criminals in the 1930's was that the laws on crime weren't as clear cut as they are today. A robber could escape punishment by crossing into another state where he was still innocent. It wasn't until 1934 that a law was passed that anyone who committed a crime in more than one state could be arrested in any of the 50 states. The FBI (called the Division of Investigation at the time) was still in its formative years, with limited resources, and its authority was repeatedly under question in court.

Eventually Dillinger was found and killed, due to the determined efforts of Special Agent Melvin Purvis. He carried out his mission calmly, without emotion, because he considered it the right thing to do.

The film has first rate performances by Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis. Leelee Sobieski is wasted in her role. She's an insignificant background character and isn't able to display her full acting ability. She would have been better cast in the leading female role of Dillinger's girlfriend, Billie Frechette. That would have greatly improved the film.

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