Gentlemen, shortly you will be provided Thompson submachine guns, BARs, and uh, .351 Winchester semiautomatic rifles. We are pursuing hardened killers. It will be dangerous.
– Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Melvin Purvis in Public Enemies (2009)
Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009) is but the latest effort to bring the life of infamous bank robber John “Johnnie” Dillinger on the silver screen. It follows his exploits between autumn 1933 and summer 1934, but really concentrates on his affair with gun moll M. Evelyn “Billie” Frechette. As in many other Mann movies, the law enforcement side receives almost equal attention, here in the shape of Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Melvin Purvis. While Mann undertook extraordinary effort to bring the time to life through clothing, automobiles, firearms, and locations, he stuck less rigidly to the historical facts, including the timeline. Events have been moved forward or backward, people have been omitted or changed, etc. It has to be understood that Public Enemies is not really a historical film at all, unlike Bryan Burrough’s meticulously researched book Public Enemies (2004), on which it is based. It is still an excellent movie, not the least because of its awesome score and of course its actors, including Johnny Depp as Dillinger, Christian Bale as Purvis, and Stephen Graham as “Baby Face Nelson.”