Fresh from her 2008 Best Actress Oscar for La Vie en Rose, Marion Cotillard plays Billie Frechette opposite Johnny Depp's John Dillinger in Michael Mann's new film, Public Enemies. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the real John Dillinger's death just outside the Biograph Theatre in Chicago.
The previous version of Dillinger's rampage through the Midwest was the 1973 film Dillinger starring Warren Oates, Richard Dreyfuss, Cloris Leachman and others. Comparing them, Michael Mann's new version of the Dillinger story is superior in two ways. First, it sticks more closely to the facts than the Warren Oates film, and its scenes of life during the height of the Great Depression are more realistic. However, the original is still pretty good.
If moviegoers were expecting a foppish version of Dillinger, in the mode of Depp's Captain Sparrow from the film Pirates of the Carribbean, they were happily disappointed. Depp plays Dillinger so well it's frightening, accurately portraying him as an arrogant gangster who robbed (in 2009 dollars) millions from banks whenever he felt the need.
'They ain't tough enough, fast enough, or smart enough. I hit any bank I want, anytime. They got to be at every bank...all the time...'
Marion Cotillard plays Dillinger's girlfriend Billie Frechette to the hilt with style and grace. In one memorable scene she is captured by police in a trap meant for Dillinger. One cop handcuffs her to a chair and beats her mercilessly to get her to tell where Dillinger is hiding. All she tells the cop is what will happen to him 'when Johnny finds out.' Like many of the other scenes in the film, it is based on true events. On a side note, Cotillard's 2008 Oscar for her portrayal of French singer Edith Piaf was the first Best Actress Oscar awarded to a Foreign Language film in 46 years, since Sophia Loren in Two Women.
She could be nominated for another one this year. Her performance is that good.
Depp and Cotillard invoke a deep chemistry in this one, and are supported by actors who give surprisingly good performances. A possible exception is Giovanni Ribisi, who is poorly cast as an unconvincing Alvin 'Creepy' Karpis. However, Ribisi only has a few lines in the film anyway, so it's not really a distraction.
One of the biggest surprises of the movie is Christian Bale in the role of troubled FBI agent Melvin Purvis. Bale plays Purvis as a straight-laced, under-pressure, ruthless cop with personal issues. There is no grey area in his character. His assigned job is to hunt down the gangsters, but he's foiled at several turns by Dillinger's gang, who are better armed than his own men - and sometimes a bit smarter.
The end of the Dillinger story at the Biograph Theatre is done accurately as far as the facts are known, and ends with a bit of a surprise regarding Dillinger's last words.
I rate this one as a 'must see' this summer. Even the soundtrack is good. Depp, Cotillard, and possibly even Bale are likely to be nominated for Oscars.