The Johnny Depp Netflix Crime Thriller That Is Unfairly Underrated

By Douglas Helm | Published

Johnny Depp

If you’re looking for a tense crime drama based on true events, then the Michael Mann-directed Public Enemies might be just the thing you’re looking for tonight. The 2009 film is currently available to stream on Netflix, and it’s one of Johnny Depp’s better late-career performances. Make sure to check it out if you’re interested in John Dillinger or in crime dramas in general.

Based On A Book

Public Enemies is based on the non-fiction book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34 by Bryan Burroughs, which chronicles the crime spree of notorious bank robber John Dillinger during the Great Depression. The film follows Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and the relentless pursuit of FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to catch him.

The film also stars Marion Cotillard as Dillinger’s paramour Billie Frechette, as well as other characters like John “Red” Hamilton (Jason Clarke), Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff), Harry Pierpont (David Wenham), and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham).

The Rise Of The FBI

Michael Mann directed and co-wrote the film with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman. Public Enemies may not be entirely historically accurate, but the historical accuracy sacrifices are worth it for the added entertainment value. The setting of the tumultuous 1930s, the real-life trappings of the formation of the FBI, and the techniques used to catch Dillinger are still realistic enough to make this a historical drama that is accurate enough to be entertaining and relatively informative.

An Immersive Look Into A 1930s America

The film’s use of real locations and the immersive dedication to recreating the feeling and look of the 1930s also gives Public Enemies a transportive quality as you watch the ethically questionable but Robin Hood-esque Dillinger navigate Depression-era America.

Depp is great in the role and gives the character a certain magnetism, while Christian Bale provides the more straight-laced performance as Purvis. The cat-and-mouse dynamic in the film is super engaging, and Depp and Bale bring realistic performances to the table that are based on both of their in-depth research of their characters.

Thrilling Shootouts And Heists

For obvious reasons, Johnny Depp has to learn about Dillinger through supplementary materials and some recordings from Dillinger’s father to put together his take on the real-life robber. Meanwhile, Bale was able to spend quite a bit of time with the real Melvin Purvis to develop his character. Their dedication to bringing these two to life shows in Public Enemies and makes the film that much more entertaining and believable.

Of course, Public Enemies is also a Michael Mann film, so you can expect top-notch direction from the critically acclaimed auteur. The shootout and heist scenes are particularly great, as Mann brings his expert touch to them, creating exciting and dynamic moments. If you’re on a Mann kick right now in anticipation of his upcoming Ferrari biopic, this is definitely a good one to add to the watch list.

Michael Mann’s Best Film?

Public Enemies received relatively positive reviews upon its release, but it’s safe to say that it probably isn’t Michale Mann’s best effort. It does feature some impressive filmmaking and charismatic lead performances, but it doesn’t quite measure up to his all-time greats like Heat or Collateral. It’s still well worth the watch, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best film that Mann has put together.

Public Enemies also did fairly well at the box office, as it ended up bringing in around $214 million at the worldwide box office against a budget of $100 million. It did have to go up against the Transformers sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, on its opening weekend, so that did make it tough to take the top spot. Still, it had a very respectable box office take and easily could be considered a financial success.

Watch Public Enemies On Netflix

In any case, Public Enemies is definitely one to watch if you like Michael Mann, historical dramas, crime films, or simply well put together films with great performances. It’s not a film that is going to blow you away by any means, but it’s definitely one that will keep you entertained and even give you some insight into John Dillinger and his infamous crime spree. Make sure to head over to Netflix if you’re interested in checking this one out for a movie night or a weekend watch.