Public Enemies Blu-ray Review

IGN dissects Michael Mann's crime epic.

by | December 7, 2009 | Comments

Director Michael Mann returns to the cops and criminals genre with Public
, based on Bryan Burrough’s book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime
Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34
. Johnny Depp stars as legendary
Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger, whose charm, media savvy and bank
robberies captured America’s imagination and made him the most famous and
beloved desperado since Jesse James.

Just out of prison, Dillinger is hellbent for all life has denied him while
inside, whether it’s money, excitement, or romance. Along with his gang — Harry
“Pete” Pierpont (David Wenham), Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff), John “Red”
Hamilton (Jason Clarke), and later the trigger-happy “Baby Face” Nelson (Stephen
Graham) — Dillinger raids a slew of banks in the country’s heartland at the
height of the Great Depression. The headlines and public adulation generated by
Dillinger’s exploits prompts the (later Federal) Bureau of Investigation, led by
young administrator J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), to spearhead America’s first
war on crime. Hoover tasks ambitious young lawyer-turned-agent Melvin Purvis
(Christian Bale) with capturing or killing Dillinger.

Purvis and his agents fail more often than not in their pursuit of Dillinger,
resulting in Hoover pushing them to their ethical boundaries in order to bring
down Public Enemy No. 1. While on the lam, Dillinger falls for pretty coat check
attendant Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), who quickly learns exactly who
and what he is and loves him regardless. But despite his cunning and
resourcefulness, Dillinger’s days are numbered as the FBI — and the Mafia that
fears the federal heat Dillinger has brought down on all criminals — inches
closer to finally getting their man.

Score: 7 out of 10 [rtimage]MapID=1205374&MapTypeID=2&photo=44&legacy=1[/rtimage]
Video and Presentation

This high-def presentation in 2.40:1 widescreen does a much better job than the
DVD of translating the HD video picture into a crisp, sharp image. There’s not a
trace of grain or a digital flaw to be found. The level of depth and detail is
significant, so the textures of the period textiles and decor stand out nicely.
The muted sepia-inspired color palette, well suited to the time period, looks
alternately cool or warm, befitting Mann’s required mood, If there is a
complaint to be made about this otherwise impressive presentation, it’s in the
heightened contrast, which crushes some of the detail in the blacks and causes
the bright whites to bloom slightly. But that’s just nitpicking, really.

Score: 9 out of 10 [rtimage]MapID=1205374&MapTypeID=2&photo=41&legacy=1[/rtimage]
Audio and Languages

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 nicely shows off the best element of the sound
design, the lively score by Elliot Goldenthal. The dialogue is clear and mostly
front-loaded, with a few directional voices here and there. The most dynamic
audio effects are the snaps of gunfire that ring out occasionally, but they’re
more realistic sounding than the heavy, bombastic effects you might expect from
a modern-day action film. Atmospheric effects and the occasional subway car or
automobile round out this healthy and resonant track. Other languages include a
French track in DVS stereo and Spanish DTS 5.1

Score: 9 out of 10 [rtimage]MapID=1205374&MapTypeID=2&photo=39&legacy=1[/rtimage]

Extras and Packaging

Universal has packed this release with everything in its Blu-ray bag of tricks,
from U-Control to BD-Live content to D-Box motion. And not only do you get these
exclusive interactive features, you also get everything available on the DVD
disc in HD and a digital copy of the film.

The traditional-style features on the disc include:

  • Commentary by Michael Mann
  • Larger than Life Adversaries
  • Michael Mann: Making Public Enemies
  • Last of the Legendary Outlaws
  • On Dillinger’s Trail
  • Criminal Technology

Most of these features highlight pretty much the content you’d expect, each
running no longer than 15 minutes. “Larger than Life Adversaries” talks in brief
about both Dillinger and Purvis, their backgrounds and methodologies. “Last of
the Legendary Outlaws” goes into a bit more detail on the actual Dillinger and
presents some of the most interesting material by virtue of period footage,
photographs and personal effects belonging to Dillinger himself. “On Dillinger’s
Trail” and “Criminal Technology” focus more on the manhunt, discussing Purvis’
mindset and examining how the rise of the 20th century began to give birth to
the modern style of criminal investigation that we know today.

Mann’s commentary, however, proves the most informative and engaging. There’s no
doubt about Mann’s level of education on his subjects as he guides the viewer
through the historical details of every moment and sequence. But what’s most
interesting, perhaps, is his love and understanding of the actor’s process,
discussing the degree to which he allows his actors the freedom to create a
character that he, as the director, will ultimately serve as best he can. Mann
is obviously a brilliant and charismatic filmmaker whose painstaking attention
to detail comes across during this incredibly watchable commentary.

As for the Blu-ray exclusives, many of these have been offered in similar
fashion on other titles, but this a pretty extensive collection for a single

While we admire the effort to make the main feature here more interactive, we
can’t help but think how a commentary with the talky director would have better
serviced this 3-disc set. Warners should provide more extras given the
pricepoint and the real estate 3-discs afford.

The traditional-style features on the disc include:

  • U-Control Picture-in-Picture
  • U-Control Interactive Timeline
  • BD-Live Gangster Movie Challenge
  • Pocket Blu Enabled
  • D-Box Motion Enabled
  • My Scenes

The “Picture-in-Picture” feature runs concurrently with the film as a sort of
video commentary, with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage from the set and
more. Some of it is repeated from the making-of featurette, but it’s presented
here in reference to the appropriate scenes. You can also turn on an
“Interactive Timeline” that discusses the real-life story, with interviews with
experts and the cast and crew. There’s even an old vintage newsreel piece
advising gangsters that “You Can’t Get Away with It.”

The Gangster Movie Challenge is a networked trivia game covering the entire
gangster genre. Test your knowledge, then post your scores and compare them with
other players all over the world.

The “Pocket Blu” app must be downloaded to your iPhone or iTouch before you can
use it, but it opens up a whole area of content called “Mobile-To-Go” and turns
your device into a virtual remote control for your Blu-ray player.

There’s also D-Box functionality here, so those with the right gear
(motion-enabled game chairs, etc.) will be able to literally feel every gunshot,
right down to their bones. You also get Universal’s standard bookmarking
feature, “My Scenes,” which lets you choose and save your favorite moments to
return to at the push of a button. This has been out for a while, but for those
who have gotten used to using it, it can be handy. Especially with a
reference-quality disc you want to show off to friends.

Finally, Universal has found a new way to promote their upcoming products
besides the same old trailers and previews. There’s a live, streaming ticker on
the menu screen listing movies, DVDs and other promotions from the studio.
Fortunately, you can turn it off if you so desire (although the default setting
is “on,” so you’ll see it every time you reload the disc).

Score: 9 out of 10[rtimage]MapID=1205374&MapTypeID=2&photo=32&legacy=1[/rtimage]
The Bottom Line

A fascinating, if somewhat flawed film, made even better by this well-produced
Blu-ray that really takes advantage of the capabilities of the format.

Overall Score: 8 out of 10 (not an average)[rtimage]MapID=1205374&MapTypeID=2&photo=30&legacy=1[/rtimage]
For additional IGN coverage on Blu-ray, including more reviews, news, and
previews, visit And for RT’s
own coverage, visit our Blu-ray

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