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January 4, 2010
Public Enemies Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
1/7/200930/11/2009UniversalMichael Mann
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MA15+Johnny Depp

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Johnny Depp as Dillinger in Public Enemies.

As an Australian citizen it always amazes me how much American history and culture permiates our society. Indeed, it's fair to say that we probably know more about American criminals, gangs and the like then those in our own prisons. No doubt this is in part due to the massive number of American TV shows and movies we see every day.

John Dillinger is one such character - a criminal we had heard about, but didn't really understand the full story. When trailers started to appear for Public Enemies my interest was immediately present, but not due to the star Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), or the director Michael Mann (Collateral) but rather the promise that this movie would tell the story of John Dillinger.

Public Enemies tells the incredible and true story of legendary Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). The charismatic bank robbers lightning raids made him the number one target of J. Edgar Hoover's fledgling FBI and its top agent, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). In his prime, he soon found himself a folk hero to much of the downtrodden public.

As many of you would know I love movies based on true stories and I was a little disappointed to learn that Public Enemies, while based on real-life bank robber John Dillinger also takes quite a few liberties with the storyline. The death of George Baby Face Nelson actually took place after the events of this movie, Dillinger and Purvis never had a conversation in any prison, and Billie Frenchette was never heavily interrogated by the FBI among other things.

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Christian Bale puts in a solid performance.
Still what we do have here is a great movie that certainly captures the spirit of the era, and also the broad strokes of John Dillinger's life. There is considerable attention to detail too with many scenes filmed in the exact location where certain events took place, while Michael Mann's direction is tight and briskly paced. Johnny Depp is impressive as John Dillinger and you truly believe he has the suave personality to be likable, but also the menacing nature to pull off the robberies and murders. Credit must also go to Christian Bale who puts in a fine performance as Melvin Purvis.

Public Enemies is a superb film which - despite taking some liberties on real events - sees Michael Mann and Johnny Depp both at the top of their game. It's an engrossing movie that fans The Untouchables, American Gangster or Michael Mann's Heat would do well to check out. Public Enemies is an impressive movie.

Despite the lavish production values, the early 20th Century setting for this period piece, and the moderately large budget director Michael Mann decided to use digital cameras to film this motion picture - a first for him. Filming digitally can bring with it some inherent problems, but in the right hands the resulting images can be breathtaking. That is the case on numerous occasions in this film with some wonderful levels of detail and colouring.

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Johnny Depp on the dance floor.
Why then have I given this film such a low score when it comes to the video quality? Well through a large number of scenes there is a pulsating level of light. It's almost like the director intentionally made the digital image look more film-like by adding a strobing affect - and perhaps he did - but it is distracting. There are also scenes which have considerable amounts of noise which are quite noticeable and in some scenes the whites are quite blown out. There also seems to be some strange skipped frames at 2:09:05. Still, with a bitrate that often hovers in the mid-20Mbps area this release is vastly superior to the DVD release which in itself is an impressive transfer for the format.

While we have some issues with the video on this release the same can't be said for the stunning audio quality. Encoded with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (24-bit/48Khz) this is a superb audio mix that brings life to the movie. Dialogue is clear, and the music from composer Elliot Goldenthal (Frida, Michael Collins) however it's the audio effects such as guns firing that will really have you blasted out of the room. Perhaps a little too loud in places, they certainly do have an impact.

If I was to pick some very minor complaints it has to be that the dialogue is occasionally a little soft and muffled which forced me to turn up the volume only to be blown away by the aforementioned gunfire.

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John Dillinger (Depp) is on trial.
Public Enemies comes to Blu-Ray with a few extras which aff a bit more background detail to the story in the movie.

Commentary with Michael Mann: Michael Mann goes solo on this audio commentary which does contain some gaps but is also some quite interesting information about the production, and the real-life events upon which the movie is based.

Larger Then Life: Adversaries (10:19/HD): This featurette focuses on John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis with some real newsreel footage from back in the day, and interviews with the director, actors and Purvis' son.

Michael Mann: Making Public Enemies (20:32/HD): This rather interesting featurette looks at Michael Mann's process of making this movie including making everything look authentic to the time period including accuracy to the real events (although why they decide to deviate for some select scenes and details isn't explained). Still this is detailed and well worth a look.

Last of the Legendary Outlaws (8:44/HD): This featurette looks at the myth and legend of one of the last great outlaws and bank robbers in America. This featurette also details members of the Dillinger crew and offers some more details about the man behind the legend including original news footage.

On Dillinger's Trail: The Real Locations (9:48/HD): Michael Mann spent quite a bit of time recreating the authenticity for this movie and this featurette explores the real locations and recreations or restorations used for filming Public Enemies. The actors also discuss how it felt playing the characters in exactly the same locations as the real characters some 75 years earlier.

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Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis in Public Enemies.
Criminal Technology (9:39/HD): Forget about DNA testing, back in the 1930's even wiretapping a phone line was new technology to the government and this featurette explores the "superior" technology which the criminals had over the law enforcement including the Thompson sub-machine gun and the Ford V8 which could easily outrun the police cars.

U Control: I'm not totally sold on the U-Control feature which offers a Timeline and Picture-in-Picture moments. While the content is fantastic it requires a bit too much manual operation for my liking - give me a list of extras with a "Play All" function and I'll be happy. Still with plenty of newsreels (including an interview with John Dillinger Sr) and information this is essential viewing.

Despite the issues with the video, which are largely from the source material, I thoroughly enjoyed Public Enemies which tells the story of one of America's most famous criminals. It's a fascinating tale, and well worth your time.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Universal. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.