Public Enemies *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS )
Public Enemies provides a welcome shock to the system. This tough-minded, visually electric movie about Depression bank robber John Dillinger ( Johnny Depp) takes audiences into the center of the action in its opening minutes. It keeps them there as it expands into a bristling chronicle of a country in flux. Depp goes all the way with the role of a wry, wily Midwesterner. He really nails this character - the scion of an age of speed who says he wants "everything" and wants it "right now." And Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar for her bravura performance as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose, brings a passionate limpidity to the role of Dillinger's true love, a Chicago hatcheck girl, Billie Frechette, who's tired of rich people judging her by her clothes and men rejecting her because she is half-Indian. These stars act with dynamic subtlety, and that's how Michael Mann has made this movie. He puts viewers right on the running board of speedy cars, the vehicles that were key to the "golden age of bank robberies." But Mann also puts them in Congress with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover ( Billy Crudup) when he argues that he should lead America's War on Crime - though Hoover had never made a single arrest himself. The movie is about the mistakes that gangs, agencies and countries make when they begin to think that it takes cold-blooded tactics to restore order. Hoover's War on Crime starts to resemble the War on Terror. On the other side of the law, "organized crime" cracks down on freelancers like Dillinger. P ublic Enemies soars as a revisionist piece of American folklore, like those terrific films about the James gang, The Lo ng Riders and The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. This movie sees the public relations that went into the Dillinger image, but Depp still manages to imbue him with stature and mystery. Public Enemies proves that emotional truth is what becomes a legend most. Rated R. Time 133 minutes.