Essentially there are two kinds of gangster movies: those made during the time when men wore hats in real life and those made during the time when men wore hats that came from wardrobe. The first type are usually in black-and-white, punchy, nervy and full of wisecracks. The second type are usually longer and more violent, but slower-paced and nobler of purpose, as if the hats suddenly carried an extra weight, an extra sadness. What Michael Mann has achieved with the new Public Enemies is an often fascinating, striking combination of the two.
I walked into the new film, convinced that it could never top lean, mean B-movie classics like Max Nosseck's Dillinger (1945) or Don Siegel's Baby Face Nelson (1957) in which these gangsters were initially immortalized. But it equals them, capturing some of their raw energy and allure and clocking in as a longer, but equally fast-moving and adrenaline-pumping example. Somehow Mann only manages to use the extra time for flash and spectacle, and hardly any for depth or detail, but that only helps to speed things along. Happily, he also avoids the typical origin story, and plunges right in.