Public Enemies is a good movie, but it feels incomplete, and thereby unsatisfying.
To put it simply, I was not convinced by this movie. I was convinced that I was watching Dillinger and his persuers tear up cities in the 1930s, yes, but I wasn't convinced that what I was watching was meaningful, or even particularly interesting.
One of the major issues with this movie is the lack of character development. Don't get me wrong, the actors all did fine jobs, but I felt that each of them could have benefited from more screentime to develop their characters. Too often a scene prepares to introduce some intriguing element to the plot or open a window into a character...only to cut away right before the climactic moment. I found myself wanting Depp's character to make a speech...talk to his men, prepare them for a battle, or maybe talk to his girl, prepare her for a long trip away...but instead I get a mumbled line and a slight smirk. And that works, by the way, but not for two hours. Melvin, Billie, and Jack have the most screentime, but none of them ever have anything really interesting to say. And unfortunately, that drains the pool a bit for a drama.
Something interesting to note is that this movie is very similar plotwise to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Both movies feature the life and death (yes, the depression-era gangster has unfortunately passed away) of an American hero/wanted criminal rogue-like character and his cohorts, friends, and family. But Assassination is the better movie by far because it feels more complete. I understood and cared about each of the characters. The movie's final minutes are unforgetable. But as for Public Enemies, I couldn't bring myself to empathize with any of the characters or connect with them because frankly, the movie didn't offer me much of a reason to.
The set and costume design is appropriately wonderful, and the cinmetography is decent, but I couldn't really good a good glimpse of any of the above mentioned because of an overuse of the too-popular-and-too-uninteresting-at-this-point-because-it's-so-popular-that-it's-overdone handycam. The quick cuts and short scenes from numerous camera angles didn't help either. Fortunately, once the movie picked up this became less obvious and thereby less distracting.
Thematically, I'm sure the writers had something to say, but they didn't convince me to listen. Some scenes are too obvious, others are too vague and needed expanding, and the mashup of these scenes for two hours creates an understandable thread, but not a very deep or interesting one. The whole death thing, let me tell you, has been done before. I'm not saying that the movie was completely without interest symbolically or thematically, but too often the writers hinted at what they should have been shouting, and scream what they should have whispered softly.
Public Enemies is a good movie, yes, but it struck me as a missed opportunity. The era is well created, but the characters that walk in that world, while fun to watch, aren't very captivating.
But damn, I want a suit, hat, and cigarette.