Public Enemies is a 2009 American crime film co-written and directed by
Michael Mann. Set during the Great Depression, it focuses on the true story of
FBI agent Melvin Purvis's attempt to stop criminals John Dillinger, Baby Face
Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd. The film is an adaptation of Bryan Burrough's
non-fiction book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of
the FBI, 1933–34. Christian Bale plays FBI agent Purvis, Johnny Depp plays
Dillinger, Marion Cotillard plays Dillinger's girlfriend Billie Frechette,
Stephen Graham plays Nelson, and Channing Tatum plays Floyd.
The film opens in 1933 as John Dillinger (Johnny
Depp) is brought to the Indiana State Prison by his partner John "Red" Hamilton
(Jason Clarke), under the disguise of a prisoner drop. Dillinger and Hamilton
overpower several guards and free members of their gang including Charles Makley
(Christian Stolte) and Harry Pierpont (David Wenham). The jailbreak goes off
without a hitch, until gang member Ed Shouse (Michael Vieau) beats a guard to
death. A shootout ensues as the gang makes its getaway. Dillinger's friend and
mentor Walter Dietrich (James Russo) is killed, and a furious Dillinger kicks
Shouse out of the car. The rest of the gang retreats to a farm house hideout,
where crooked East Chicago, Indiana cop Martin Zarkovich (John Michael Bolger)
convinces them to hide out in Chicago, where they can be sheltered by the local
In East Liverpool, Ohio, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and several other FBI
agents and East Liverpool Cops are running down Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing
Tatum). Purvis kills Floyd and is promoted by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup),
who is struggling to expand his Bureau into a national police agency, to lead
the hunt for John Dillinger, declaring the first national "War on Crime."
In between a series of bank robberies, including a violent one at the First
National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana, where Dillinger kills an East Chicago
cop, Dillinger meets Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), his love interest, at
a restaurant, and proceeds to woo her by buying her a fur coat. Frechette falls
for Dillinger even after he tells her who he is, and the two quickly become
Melvin Purvis leads a failed ambush at a hotel where he believes Dillinger is
staying. An agent is shot and killed by the occupant. After the man escapes,
Purvis realizes the killer wasn't Dillinger but Baby Face Nelson (Stephen
Graham). After this incident, Purvis requests Hoover to bring in a professional
lawmen who know how to catch criminals dead or alive, including Texas "cowboy"
Charles Winstead (Stephen Lang).
Police finally find Dillinger and arrest him and his gang in Tucson. Purvis
arrives that evening and briefly talks with Dillinger; Dillinger tries to size
Purvis up and manages to unnerve him with his talk about the agent killed by
Nelson. Dillinger is extradited back to the Lake County Jail in Crown Point,
Indiana, where he is locked up by Sherriff Lillian Holley (Lili Taylor) pending
trial. Dillinger and a few inmates, chief among them is Herbert Youngblood
(played by Michael Bentt), carve a fake wooden gun and use it to escape the jail
in Sherriff Holley's Police Cruiser. Dillinger is unable to see Frechette, who
is under tight surveillance. Dillinger learns that Frank Nitti's (Bill Camp)
Chicago Outfit associates are now unwilling to help him; Dillinger's crimes are
motivating the U.S. government to begin prosecuting interstate crime, which
imperils Nitti's lucrative bookmaking racket.
Later, Dillinger meets fellow bank robber Tommy Carroll (Spencer Garrett) in a
movie theater; with him is Ed Shouse, who wants to rejoin the gang. Carroll
goads Dillinger into a bank robbery job in Sioux Falls, promising a huge score.
Even though Baby Face Nelson is involved, whom he doesn't like, Dillinger
agrees. A shootout (triggered by Nelson shooting a cop outside the bank) occurs
in which Dillinger is shot in the arm, and Carroll is shot and left for dead.
They retreat to Nelson's wilderness hideout in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin,
where Dillinger's wounds are treated; the gang is disappointed to find that
their haul is only a fraction of what they expected. Dillinger expresses hope he
can free the rest of his gang still in prison, including Pierpont and Makley,
but Red convinces him this is unlikely to happen.
Purvis and his men apprehend Carroll (who is still alive) and torture him to
find the rest of the gang's location. They arrive at Little Bohemia and Purvis
organizes another failed ambush, in which several civilians are killed in the
cross-fire. Dillinger and Red escape separately from Nelson and the rest of the
gang. Agents Winstead and Hurt (Don Frye) pursue Dillinger and Hamilton through
the woods on foot, engaging them in a running gun battle in which Red is shot
and fatally wounded. Trying to escape along the road, Nelson, Shouse and Homer
Van Meter (Stephen Dorff) hijack an FBI car, killing several agents in the
process, including Purvis's partner Carter Baum (Rory Cochrane). After a car
chase, Purvis and his men kill Nelson and the rest of the gang. Further down the
road, Dillinger and Hamilton steal a farmer's car and make good their escape;
Hamilton dies later that night and Dillinger buries his body, covering it in
Dillinger manages to meet Frechette, telling her he plans to do one last job
that will pay enough for them to escape together. However, Dillinger drops her
off at a hotel he thinks is safe and helplessly watches as she is captured by
the FBI while sobbing. An interrogator, the brutish Agent Harold Reinecke (Adam
Mucci) viciously beats Frechette to learn Dillinger's whereabouts until she
fabricates a location where Dillinger is hiding. Agent Reinecke investigates and
realises he has been lied to. He returns and beats Frechette in order to teach
her a lesson. Frechette begins sneering that they missed their chance to capture
him at the hotel, and that Dillinger's anger will know no bounds when he hears
about her treatment; Purvis and Winstead arrive and angrily break up the abusive
interrogation. Meanwhile, Dillinger is meeting with Alvin Karpis (Giovanni
Ribisi), who tries to recruit a disinterested Dillinger in a train robbery with
his associates, the Barker Gang. After hearing about the massive reward,
Dillinger agrees to pull the robbery and flee the country the next day.
Dillinger receives a note from Billie through his lawyer, Louis Piquet (Peter
Gerety), telling him not to try and break her out of jail.
Through crooked cop Zarkovich, Purvis enlists the help of a madam and Dillinger
acquaintance Anna Sage (Branka Katic), threatening her with deportation if she
does not cooperate. She agrees to set up Dillinger, who is hiding with Sage.
That night Dillinger and Sage see a Clark Gable movie called Manhattan Melodrama
at the Biograph Theater. When the movie is over, Dillinger and the women leave
as Purvis moves in. Dillinger spots the police (specifically Reinecke, the man
who beat up Dillinger's gal) and is shot several times before he can draw his
gun against the cop who harmed Frechette. Agent Winstead, who fired the fatal
shot, listens to Dillinger's last words. Purvis departs to inform Hoover that
Dillinger is dead.
Later, Winstead meets Frechette in prison. He tells her that Dillinger's dying
words were "Tell Billie for me, 'Bye bye Blackbird.'" The closing text reveals
that Melvin Purvis quit the FBI shortly afterwards and died by his own hand in
1960, and that Billie lived out of the rest of her life in Wisconsin following
her release in 1936.
- Johnny Depp as John Dillinger: An
American bank robber whose exploits dominated the press during what is
sometimes referred to as the public enemy era, between 1931 and 1934.
- Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis: An
FBI agent chosen by J. Edgar Hoover to lead a manhunt to catch Dillinger.
- Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette:
Dillinger's coat check girlfriend.
- Giovanni Ribisi as Alvin Karpis: A
noted criminal in the United States known for his alliance with the Barker
gang in the 1930s. He was the last "Public Enemy" to be captured.
- Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson:
He was a bank robber who acquired his moniker, Baby Face Nelson due to his
youthful appearance and small stature. After Dillinger's death in July 1934,
Nelson became Public Enemy Number One.
- Stephen Lang as Charles Winstead: He
is the leader of the Texas Rangers who join the manhunt for Dillinger and his
gang. Winstead had previously been involved in tracking Bonnie and Clyde and
Machine Gun Kelly before joining the Dillinger manhunt. Stephen Lang
previously worked with Mann in Manhunter.
- Stephen Dorff as Homer Van Meter: A
criminal and bank robber active in the early 20th century, most notably as a
criminal associate of Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson.
- Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover: The
first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United
- Leelee Sobieski as Polly Hamilton:
Dillinger's final date, ignorant of his true identity.
- Jason Clarke as John "Red" Hamilton:
A Canadian criminal and bank robber active in the early 20th century, most
notably as a criminal associate of Dillinger.
- Rory Cochrane as Carter Baum: Melvin
- Bill Camp as Frank Nitti: Al Capone's
right-hand man and Underboss in the Chicago Outfit.
- David Wenham as Harry Pierpont: A
member of Dillinger's crew and Dillinger's friend and mentor.
- Richard Short as Samuel P. Cowley: He
was the FBI agent who brought down Baby Face Nelson but was mortally wounded
in the gunbattle in Barrington, Illinois.
- Christian Stolte as Charles Makley: A
known associate of Dillinger's and who broke him out of prison in 1933. By the
end of that year, Makley ranked fourth on Illinois's list of "public enemies",
behind Dillinger, Pierpont, and Hamilton.
- Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd:
An American bank robber and alleged killer, supposedly involved in the Kansas
City Massacre which kicked off the "War on Crime".
- Emilie de Ravin as Anna Patzke: a
bank teller who was taken hostage by Dillinger and later released.
- Shawn Hatosy as John Madala: An FBI
agent who helped capture Ma Barker.
- Branka Katić as Anna Sage: the
infamous "Lady in Red" who was romantically involved with Dillinger at the
time of his murder.
- Don Frye as Clarence Hurt: a Texas
Ranger. Frye previously worked with Mann on Miami Vice.
- James Russo as Walter Dietrich: a man
whom Dillinger met while in the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. He
taught Dillinger and others "the methods of Herman 'Baron' K. Lamm, a Prussian
army officer turned highly successful bank robber."
- Lili Taylor as Sheriff Lillian
Holley: Sheriff of Lake County Jail, Crown Point, Indiana, where Dillinger was
- Michael Bentt as Herbert Youngblood:
an African American inmate jailed for the murder of August Piazza prior to
Dillinger's arrival in the Crown Point Jail. Referred to by Dillinger as "Mr.
Youngblood", he was the only prisoner to accept and accompany Dillinger during
their infamous Indiana breakout.
Public Enemies is based on Bryan Burrough's 2004 non-fiction book,
Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI,
1933–34. Burrough had originally begun researching the subject with the aim of
creating a miniseries. The idea was accepted by HBO and Burrough was made an
executive producer, along with Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions, and was
asked to write the screenplay. However, Burrough had no experience in
screenwriting, and says his drafts were probably "very, very bad. Ishtar bad."
He began simultaneously writing a non-fiction book, which he found easier,
spending two years working on it while the interest in the miniseries
disappeared. Burrough's book was set to be published in the summer of 2004 and
he asked HBO to return the movie rights. They agreed and after the book was
released, the rights were re-sold to production companies representing Michael
Mann and Leonardo DiCaprio, the latter of whom was interested in playing John
Dillinger. Burrough met with a representative and then heard nothing for three
years. The actor eventually left the project to appear in Martin Scorsese's,
In 2007, Mann renewed interest in the project with Universal Pictures backing
it. He wrote the screenplay with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman and also
directed. Of the screenplay, Burrough has said "it's not 100 percent
historically accurate. But it's by far the closest thing to fact Hollywood has
attempted, and for that I am both excited and quietly relieved."
Principal photography began in Columbus,
Wisconsin on March 17, 2008 and continued in Chicago, Illinois; Joliet,
Illinois; Lockport, Illinois; Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Beaver Dam, Wisconsin;
Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Madison, Wisconsin; and several other places in
Wisconsin until the end of June 2008, including the Little Bohemia Lodge in
Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, the actual location of a 1934 gun fight between
Dillinger and the FBI. Some parts of the film were shot in Crown Point,
Indiana, the town where Dillinger was imprisoned and subsequently escaped from
jail. The actual 1932 Studebaker used by Dillinger during a robbery in
Greencastle, Indiana was also used during filming in Columbus, borrowed from
the nearby Historic Auto Attractions museum.
The decision to shoot parts of the film in Wisconsin came about because of the
number of high quality historic buildings. Mann, who had been a student at
University of Wisconsin–Madison, scouted locations in Baraboo and Columbus as
well as looking at 1930s-era cars from collectors in the Madison area. In
addition, the film was shot on actual historical sites, including the Little
Bohemia Lodge, and the old Lake County jail in Crown Point, Indiana, where
Dillinger staged his most famous escape where legend has it he fooled jail
guards with a wooden gun and escaped in the sheriff's car. Scenes were shot at
places that he frequented in Oshkosh. The courthouse in Darlington is the
location for the courthouse scenes. A bank robbery scene was shot inside the
Milwaukee County Historical Society, a former bank in Milwaukee that still has
much of the original period architecture.
In late March 2008 portions of the film were shot at Libertyville High School.
Footage includes one of the school's science labs, an office, the school's
front entrance, and the locker rooms.
In April 2008 the production filmed in Oshkosh. Filming occurred downtown and
at Pioneer Airport, including scenes shot using a historic Ford Trimotor
airliner owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association. Later that month,
filming started at the Little Bohemia Lodge. In April and May 2008, film crews
shot on the grounds of Ishnala, a historic restaurant in the Wisconsin Dells
The film became a flash point in the public debate about the "film tax
credits" which are offered by many states. According to a study by Wisconsin's
Department of Commerce, the state of Wisconsin gave NBC Universal $4.6 million
in tax credits, while the film company spent just $5 million in Wisconsin
Michael Mann, the director, decided to shoot the movie in HD format instead of
using the traditional 35 mm film.
Mann also brought composer Elliot Goldenthal
on board to score the film; Goldenthal also scored Mann's 1995 film Heat to
critical acclaim. Jazz musician Diana Krall also makes a cameo appearance
singing the ballad "Bye Bye Blackbird," while Dillinger and his new love
interest Billie Frechette share their first dance. A duduk is also featured in
Mann commissioned graphic designer Neville
Brody to create a new font which would be used in the film's title sequence
and associated publicity material. Brody had previously worked with Mann on
the titles for Heat and The Insider. Brody created a font he called New Deal.
His brief was to create something which evoked the Depression era the film is
set in. Mann initially suggested using the London Underground typeface
Johnston as a reference. Brody and his team took inspiration from Soviet
Constructivist styles, the New Deal program and in particular the publicity
material of the WPA as a basis for the font. The final design was selected and
refined from more than 300 options. According to Brody the font is "solid,
clearly masculine and immovable."
In the United States Public Enemies has
received an MPAA rating of R for gangster violence and some language.. In
the United Kingdom, the film received a 15 certificate from the BBFC with
consumer advice "Contains Strong Violence." In Germany, Public Enemies only
received an FSK 12 rating.
The film received fairly positive reviews from critics. As of August 9, 2009,
the film holds a 67% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, out of 230
reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. It currently holds a 70/100 from
Metacritic, which indicates "generally favorable reviews." Rob James from
Total Film gave the film 4/4 stars, stating: "This superstar crime thriller
emerges as something surprising, fascinating and technically dazzling." Most
critics also praised the film's performances, specifically Depp as Dillinger.
Roger Ebert, who gave it a 3.5/4 stars, claimed that "This Johnny Depp
performance is something else. For once an actor playing a gangster does not
seem to base his performance on movies he has seen. He starts cold. He plays
Dillinger as a fact." Billy Crudup's performance was also praised, with his
performance being described as "disarmingly good" by Variety's Todd McCarthy.
Critics also gave praise to the film's cinematography and set pieces. Manohla
Dargis of The New York Times stated that "Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" is a
grave and beautiful work of art. Shot in high-definition digital by a
filmmaker who's helping change the way movies look, it revisits with
meticulous detail and convulsions of violence a short, frantic period in the
life and bank-robbing times of John Dillinger." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone
magazine, who gave the film 3.5/4 stars, said "It's movie dynamite." Ross
Miller of Movie World gave the film 4.5/5 stars, and called the film, "a
competent, compelling accomplishment that rings true and feels real from start
Some critics, however, disliked the film. Critic Liam Lacey claimed that the
film was missing "any image of the economic misery that made Dillinger a folk
hero" while also stating that "the most regrettable crime here is the way that
Mann, trying to do too much, robs himself of a great opportunity." Similarly,
Richard Corliss of TIME magazine claimed that the film's emphasis on docudrama
allowed for "precious little dramatic juice".
The movie opened at number three behind
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs with $25,271,675. The following weekend
it had a 45.5% drop to $13,794,240 for a total of $66,221,110. The next three
weekends the movie would go on to have descents drops of 46% or less. As of
November 8, 2009 the film has a worldwide gross of $201.4 million in revenue,
twice its reported production budget.
Although the film has been praised for its
attention to period detail and general accuracy, it takes significant creative
license with known facts:
Melvin Purvis and John Dillinger never met. The scene depicting Purvis and
Dillinger conversing with each other in a Tuscon jail never happened. However,
witnesses did verify the fact that Dillinger looked directly at Purvis as he
left the Biograph Theater the night he was killed but it was not likely that
he recognized Purvis unless it was from the newspapers.
Dillinger did not turn to confront an FBI tormentor shortly before he was
killed. Nor did he issue "dying words" to Agent Winstead. Of the five shots
fired by three agents, four stuck their target. One of these, a .45 caliber
bullet had shattered his cervical spine, passed through his lower brain, and
exited through his face. This would have made simple speech (let alone
eloquent last words) impossible. Aside from that, the ambush outside the
Biograph Theater was depicted with a high degree of expensive, pains-taken
accuracy and at the actual historic location on the north side of Chicago.
Though Dillinger's robbery spree after his release from Michigan City Prison
financed the bribery necessary to get the guns into Michigan City Prison,
Dillinger was not present during the prison break; he was still in jail
himself in Lima, Ohio at the time. Also, no one was killed in the Michigan
City break, but Sheriff Jesse Sarber was killed in the jailbreak at Lima.
Dillinger died (July 22, 1934) before both Pretty Boy Floyd (October 22, 1934)
and Baby Face Nelson (November 27, 1934). Other gang members and associates
depicted being killed in the film, including Walter Dietrich, Ed Shouse, and
Homer Van Meter, also outlived Dillinger.
It's unknown if Purvis actually shot Floyd, though he was armed only with a
Colt M1911 pistol and not a Mauser rifle as depicted in the film. Contrary to
the film's portrayal, Purvis, four other FBI Agents and several East Liverpool
policemen, armed with a variety of weapons (pistols, shotguns, rifles and at
least one Tommy gun), fired several volleys at Floyd en masse, hitting him at
least twice; because of this, who exactly shot Floyd may be unknowable. The
exact circumstances of Floyd's death are still a matter of controversy, with
East Liverpool policeman Chester Smith alleging one of Purvis's men summarily
executed Floyd after he had been wounded, while FBI Agents present denied this
allegation, claiming he was fatally injured and died from his initial
injuries. It may also be noted that Floyd was gunned down in an open field,
not in an orchard as the film portrays, and was not armed with a Tommy gun but
only a .45 pistol at the time.
The hearing with Hoover and Senator Kenneth McKellar of Tennessee actually
took place several years after the events depicted in the film.
Hoover had already declared a "war on crime" before Dillinger came to national
attention; the July 17th, 1933 Kansas City Massacre of four FBI Agents and
police officers, in which Pretty Boy Floyd was allegedly involved, was the
trigger for the "war", along with the kidnappings of St. Paul brewery heir
William Hamm by the Barker-Karpis Gang (which is referenced in the film) and
oil tycoon Edward Urschell by George "Machine Gun" Kelly.
Homer Van Meter and Harry Pierpont are shown taking part in several bank
robberies together, when in reality the two men hated each other and never
worked together on a robbery.
The film shows Purvis calling in the Texas "cowboys" after a (fictional)
failed ambush of Nelson, over the objections of a reluctant Hoover. In
reality, Winstead and his men only arrived in Chicago after Little Bohemia and
at Hoover's instigation; Hoover considered Purvis incompetent and would later
clash with him over the attention Purvis received for the killings of
Dillinger and Floyd.
Similarly, Purvis was no longer officially in charge of the Dillinger
investigation by the time of Little Bohemia; Special Agent Sam Cowley had
succeeded him at Hoover's orders. Cowley is only a minor character in the film
and is killed by Nelson at Little Bohemia.
The gang had been staying at Little Bohemia for several days when Purvis and
his men arrived; in the film they're depicted as stopping there overnight
after a robbery.
The Little Bohemia ambush was a major fiasco, unlike the film's portrayal
where all of Dillinger's associates are killed. Dillinger and his men slipped
out the back after the FBI fired shots on CCC workers leaving the lodge;
Nelson was the only gang member to actually exchange shots with Purvis's men,
and none of the gangsters were killed.
There was no prolonged, pitched exchange of shotgun and machine gun fire
between the bank robbers and the FBI at the lodge. The feds fired into the
upper windows and then tried to put a tear gas canister through a lower door,
but by this time, Dillinger and associates had fled out the back way.
Tommy Carroll (shown as getting wounded and captured after the Sioux Falls
robbery in the film) was with Dillinger at Little Bohemia and was killed two
months later; Ed Shouse, shown as being present (and killed) at Little
Bohemia, was in prison at the time.
Red Hamilton was not fatally wounded after fleeing the lodge but rather was
hit in the back by a rifle bullet likely fired by a policeman at the gang's
car during gunfire exchanges between St. Paul, Minn and the Wisconsin border.
Purvis did not shoot Nelson and was not present when he was killed. Nelson
died in a shootout at Barrington, Illinois with Agents Hollis and Cowley, who
both died from Nelson's bullets. Purvis did arrive at the hospital shortly
before Sam Cowley went into surgery and spoke with him. Purvis then further
angered his already disgruntled chief, Hoover, by making an authorized public
speech in which he personally vowed to avenge the death of Hollis and Cowley.
Alvin Karpis never met Dillinger (although he knew Nelson fairly well, and his
partners Doc Barker and Volney Davis helped bury Hamilton) and did not ask him
to join the Barker-Karpis gang on any jobs.
Billie was actually arrested before Little Bohemia, not after as depicted in
the film, though otherwise the scene is very accurate.
Anna Sage, Dillinger's betrayer, did not know Dillinger for over a year before
and was not a good friend as depicted.
Polly Hamilton, the girl he goes to the movies with in the final scene of the
film, was actually Dillinger's lover, while the film shows Billie Frechette as
his only love interest.
Dillinger did not enter the offices of the Dillinger Squad, but rather another
state police department. The radio broadcast of a baseball game involved the
World Series game between the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs which would
have occurred in the fall of 1934.
Dillinger died on a Sunday night therefore he would not have been downtown
with Polly while she picked up her waitress certificate.
A preview of Public Enemies was seen
at the end of the 81st Academy Awards, with the first trailer being released
shortly after on March 5, 2009. Public Enemies had its world premiere
in Chicago on June 19, 2009, and was released in Los Angeles on June 23, 2009.
The film was given wide release in the United States on July 1.
Public enemies is scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the
U.S. on 8 December 2009.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia
article "Public Enemies" and is licensed under the
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