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July 19, 2009

Depp captivates as Dillinger in ‘Enemies’

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


First off, if you don’t like loud noises, don’t even go to the cinema next door to “Public Enemies.” This movie is a machine-gun-shoot-fest. If you have a good strong heart, you’ll be fine.

Johnny Depp captivates in that slow, smoking way of his. His character is somehow sympathetic (Excuse: horrible childhood; charm: he’s nicer to the gals than the guys, is calm, cool, collected and witty), but not out-and-out glamorized.

Because he comes off as totally sane, we can forget he’s a cold-blooded killer. And I do mean cold. Huge body count, lots of innocent bystanders die. Although he’s not a Robin Hood, he’s kind of desperate, so we can start to see the cops and FBI as the enemy, too.

Dillinger’s total confidence in himself and a carefree future (he was so close), combined with his criminal genius makes him outshine the often bungling law enforcement. But let’s remember that the lawmen think twice before they shoot. They are a bit like lambs led to the slaughter in some scenes.

A young J. Edgar Hoover (played by the always astonishing Billy Crudup) is building up the FBI and his own career. Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is the star FBI guy who has what it takes to bring the lawless down. Dillinger is the prize for both of them.

But what’s even more sinister than watching one reckless individual? Watching the birth of the mob. It’s a syndicated, systemic, coast-to-coast, organized crime unit that is so tough it doesn’t even need guns, just phones. Dillinger and his ilk are passe. At 31, Dillinger is already an old-fashioned crook.

Dillinger’s love interest, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), is portrayed as a rather innocent coat-check girl. What does she see in Dillinger? Someone who truly loved her. She wasn’t part of his bloody sprees, and they love each other in a vacuum that has nothing to do with “that other part” of his life. He was her hero, and indeed, Dillinger was a hero to many Depression- era Americans.

In the end, Dillinger and his gang, like the much-feted “Sopranos,” are just a bunch of thugs, out for illicit personal gain and an eventually easy life. The really exciting man is the working man, doing the right thing. The honest thing. The hard thing. Every day. (See movies such as: “A Bronx Tale,” “Norma Rae,” “On the Waterfront,” “The Great Debaters.”)

Burns, who ministers in Chicago, has a philosophy/theology degree from St. John’s University, N.Y., and studied screenwriting at the University of California- Los Angeles.