The real Dillinger

Tonight we watched Public Enemies (2009), with Johnny Depp starring as notorious bank robber John Dillinger and Christian Bale as his obsessive FBI pursuer, Melvin Purvis. Depp and Bale are good in that strange sort of way that has become their trademark, but I have two gripes about this film. The first is the lousy editing – at least, in the version we saw – or is it the writing? The first third of the film jumps and jerks about as the director tries to squeeze all the plot lines in, like fitting objects into an already overstuffed drawer. The second gripe is the absence of any attempt to explain why Dillinger behaved the way he did. For a start, the film gives¬†very little¬†sense at all that America was living through the Great Depression. As a youth and young man Dillinger was a hothead and a petty criminal who had great difficulty in holding down a steady job. But what surely turned him into a careful planner of bank robberies and ultimately a cynical killer was an absurdly lengthy prison sentence – a minimum of ten years for stealing $ 50 – after his disciplinarian father had misguidedly convinced him to confess to his crime. Indiana State Prison was a finishing school for bank robbers and Dillinger was an attentive pupil. How much stronger this film would have been if it had given us a sense of all that! It’s a shame, because in many ways the film was faithful to the real story and Depp at times looks uncannily like the real Dillinger…