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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this 1930s-set crime drama starring Johnny Depp as infamous bank robber John Dillinger is full of very realistic violence that some will find hard to take. Gun battles are frequent and intense, and characters suffer gory wounds and die. A woman is beaten during an interrogation scene; other characters are shot down in cold blood. Although there's not too much in the way of sexual content (aside from one somewhat steamy love scene with no nudity) or language (there's one use of "f--k," plus a smattering of other salty words) for an R-rated film, the movie's focus on the differences and similarities between cops and crooks yields complex role models and messages. Some law enforcement officers are depicted as corrupt and cruel, while others are dedicated, dignified, and diligent; similarly, there are cold, calm professionals among the film's criminals, as well as hair-trigger sociopaths. Expect lots of period-accurate smoking and drinking.
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What's the story?
In 1933, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) began a 14-month crime wave that started with his release from prison and ended with his death on the streets of Chicago. Hailed by the public as a modern-day Robin Hood -- or at least a charismatic criminal who struck back against the banks that many Americans blamed for the Great Depression -- Dillinger was a celebrity in his day, as was Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), the lawman that J. Edgar Hoover set on Dillinger's trail. As Dillinger and Purvis are both driven to extremes by outside forces, their kill-or-be-killed hunt plays out. ...
Is it any good?
PUBLIC ENEMIES is a thoroughly watchable piece of thriller cinema, anchored by a great star turn in Depp's John Dillinger. But it's also a much darker, more complex film than the Tommy-gun-toting action in the trailers and the posters would suggest. Director Michael Mann has made more than just crime films like Heat, Collateral, and Manhunter -- but, of course, those are the ones we remember him for. But Mann's more interested in ethics, morals, and society than he is in simple run-and-gun action -- even if he can, and does, deliver incredible action sequences as part of making his deeper dramas.
It's also a film in search of a story to tell -- Depp's Dillinger exists without a past, and Bale's Purvis is a cipher. Marion Cotillard plays the love of Dillinger's life, and she walks a careful line in depicting both a starry-eyed woman seduced by Dillinger's dangerous charms and a fully actualized person well aware of what she's doing. Public Enemies may have a few too many stories in it, and it's hampered a bit by the lack of a clearly defined arc outside of Dillinger's romanticized rise-and-fall. But the technique is immediately apparent, and the textures hidden in the story reveal themselves as more and more interesting the more you think about them. Public Enemies is a film with real depth -- and a welcome chance to engage in a film during the summer season of shallow blockbusters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's violence. How does its realistic, almost intimate style (intensified by the use of handheld digital cameras) affect its impact? Is it more or less disturbing than booming (but bloodless) explosions and big-budget mayhem?
Families can also talk about how the movie portrays both criminals and law enforcement officials. What distinguishes Dillinger from Purvis? Both are smart and determined; why is one a hero and one a villain? Is the rule of law more important than the rule of force?
Also, why do you think Dillinger, a convicted criminal, became such a well-loved figure during the Great Depression? Why did so many working-class people admire (and even shelter) him? How did he use the media to his advantage?
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