Because machine guns are not romantic anymore, the Dillinger portrayed in Public Enemies, Michael Mann's new semi-historical melodrama, is less fearless than misguided. He's caught up in the burgeoning world of organized crime and, even though the notorious bank robber would rather be a free agent, he finds himself joining forces with other top contenders on America's Most Wanted list. He engages vicious long-lasting gun fights against the police and plans collaborative heists. Dillinger, played by a boyishly nebulous Johnny Depp, vwants to care about his public image, but he easily overcomes his aversion to the two things that tarnish reputation most--kidnapping and killing--whenever the heat rises. Public Enemies' outlandish death tolls and unending supply of firearms seem, in this Weapons of Mass Destruction era, adolescent.
Another outlaw on this summer's entertainment roster never uses a gun. Jack Foley, the lead character in Elmore Leonard's new crime novels Road Dogs, robs 178 banks unarmed. The one time he wields a weapon, other than his own hands, it's an unloaded Glock meant to fool his femme fatale of an adversary. Leonard has created the perfect 21st Century gangster-hero in Foley. Violent crime has become easy and expected, but a criminal who refuses to pull the trigger and still manages to wreak large-scale, straightforward havoc is hard to hate.
Read David Edelstein's longer, spot-on review of Public Enemies here.