Perhaps the studio pitch might have been, think “Heat” with Tommy Guns and Hats.

Not a bad premise.

A reasonably linear retelling of the John Dillinger story, a man who robbed banks for a living, killing and wounding anyone who stood in his way. Adored by a bored and downtrodden American public, struggling through a crushing depression and hated in equal measure by the fledgling FBI, headed up by J Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup).

Depp plays Dillinger as a man with too little time, wanting to have and do everything – robbing banks is merely a means to that end. Why put off until tomorrow what you can steal and enjoy today, including the new broad, who happens to be the love of his life, Billie Fretchette (Cotillard).

It is difficult to imagine in today’s world, the cult following Dillinger would have enjoyed, there is no practical comparison. Even the law is in awe of him and secretly wants to be part of the perceived glamour he represented. There is a glorious scene when he is arrested, surrounded by popping flashbulbs and lit flares, as the plane he arrived in cools in the background. More pictures at the jail as he props himself proprietarily on a lawman’s shoulder, not a bit worried about his fate.

Marion Cotillard is Billie, drawn like a moth to the burning flame of Dillinger. Self aware of the cost she will have to bear but unable to resist the allure and excitement, however short-lived. If there is a stand out performance then perhaps this is it, vulnerable, knowledgeable and strong all at the same time

“I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars, whisky, and you……. what else you need to know?”, he declares.

Dillinger’s nemesis is Melvin Purvis (Bale), J Edgar Hoover’s not so secret weapon, to bring down Dillinger. Purvis played with a steel eyed, square jawed intensity by Bale. Purvis is not beneath bringing in his own men to match fire with fire to achieve that result. A man forced out of character to bend the rules, to do “whatever it takes” to bring their man in, dead or alive.

There are parallels to post 9/11 if one cares to look and despite some hints, there is little time for Purvis to show regret in his actions or those under his control, although the closing credits show him dying “of his own hand” years later.

One can ask, if you need the information just how far are you prepared to go?

Is beating a defenseless woman acceptable if she holds information you must have?

Perhaps by fighting monsters, are you in danger of becoming one?

The set piece action scenes are brilliantly staged and handled, violent but not ridiculously so, showing the repercussions of the actions taken and when people die (and they do, a lot) it means something. It had better, this is not fiction, this is recent history.

The picture presents Dillinger as a man lost and out of time. He is inexorably caught between a rapidly improving enforcement agency and a criminal element “corporatizing”, no longer needing gun toting bank robbers. In fact Dillinger is as much a threat to organized crime as the FBI are, something the criminals slowly realize. In helping his demise it’s not at all personal, just business.
It is between these two immovable forces that Dillinger’s final almost carefree acts are committed. His gang, are slowly caught or killed, leaving him alone and relying on out of control local help.

The impression is given that he is almost relieved that he is eventually betrayed as he has nowhere else to go.

I defy any movie in 2009 to present a more cinematic moment than Dillinger and his gang entering a bank in classic Gangster style with long coats, fedoras and Tommy Guns, the unseen “Steadicam” sweeping around them as they enter the bank – this is what we put our ticket dollars down for.

Complaints, well Michael Mann films are always cinematic, well scripted and shot. One might argue that his films lack a human heart or a sense of real humanity, perhaps this movie confirms that feeling. Not a criticism as such, just a style of movie making that suits some movies more than others.


Beautifully made with meticulous attention to period detail, with solid performances all round.

Unlikely to bring in Transformer box office but will be talked about and enjoyed at home when the robots have been melted down to make iPods.

Missing out on top honours only due to a lack of empathy for an unlikable (but well played) central character and detached feel but highly recommended nonetheless.