In 1933, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is brought to the Indiana State Prison by his partner John “Red” Hamilton (Jason Clarke), under the guise of a prisoner drop. Dillinger and Hamilton overpower several guards and free members of their gang including Charles Makley (Christian Stolte), Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff), Walter Dietrich (James Russo), Ed Shouse Jr. (Michael Vieau), and Harry Pierpont (David Wenham). The jailbreak goes off without a hitch, until gang member Ed Shouse, Jr. (Michael Vieau) beats a guard to death. A shootout ensues as the gang makes its getaway. Dillinger’s friend and mentor Walter Dietrich (James Russo) is killed, and a furious Dillinger kicks Shouse out of the car. The rest of the gang retreats to a farm house hideout, where crooked East Chicago, Indiana cop Martin Zarkovich (John Michael Bolger) convinces them to hide out in Chicago, where they can be sheltered by the local Mafia.
Later in East Liverpool, Ohio, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and several other Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and East Liverpool Cops are running down Pretty Boy Floyd. Purvis kills Floyd and is promoted by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), who is struggling to expand his Bureau into a national police agency, to lead the hunt for John Dillinger, declaring the first national “War on Crime.”
In between a series of bank robberies, including a violent one at The First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana, where Dillinger kills an East Chicago cop, Dillinger meets Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) at a restaurant and proceeds to woo her by buying her a fur coat. Frechette falls for Dillinger even after he tells her who he is, and the two quickly become inseparable.
Melvin Purvis leads a failed ambush at a hotel where he believes Dillinger is staying. An agent is shot and killed by the occupant. After the man escapes, Purvis realizes the killer wasn’t Dillinger but was Baby Face Nelson and Tommy Carroll. After this incident, Purvis requests that Hoover bring in professional lawmen who know how to catch criminals dead or alive, including Texas “cowboy” Charles Winstead (Stephen Lang).
Police finally find Dillinger and arrest him and his gang in Tucson, Arizona after a fire breaks out at the Hotel Congress. Purvis arrives that evening and briefly talks with Dillinger; Dillinger tries to size Purvis up and manages to unnerve him with his talk about the agent Nelson had killed. Dillinger is extradited back to the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana, where he is locked up by Sheriff Lillian Holley (Lili Taylor) pending trial. Dillinger and a few inmates, chief among them is Herbert Youngblood (played by Michael Bentt), carve a fake wooden gun and use it to escape the jail in Sheriff Holley’s Police Cruiser. Dillinger is unable to see Frechette, who is under tight surveillance. Dillinger learns that Frank Nitti’s (Bill Camp) Chicago Outfit associates are now unwilling to help him; Dillinger’s crimes are motivating the U.S. government to begin prosecuting interstate crime, which imperils Nitti’s lucrative bookmaking racket.
Later, Dillinger meets fellow bank robber Tommy Carroll (Spencer Garrett) in a movie theater; with him is Ed Shouse Jr., who wants to rejoin the gang. Carroll goads Dillinger into a bank robbery job in Sioux Falls, promising a huge score. Even though Baby Face Nelson is involved, whom he doesn’t like, Dillinger agrees. A shootout (triggered by Nelson shooting a cop outside the bank) occurs in which Dillinger is shot in the arm, and Carroll is shot and left for dead. They retreat to Nelson’s wilderness hideout in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, where Dillinger’s wounds are treated; the gang is disappointed to find that their haul is only a fraction of what they expected. Dillinger expresses hope he can free the rest of his gang still in prison, including Pierpont and Makley, but Red convinces him this is unlikely to happen.
Purvis and his men apprehend Carroll (who is still alive) and torture him to find the rest of the gang’s location. They arrive at Little Bohemia and Purvis organizes another failed ambush, in which several civilians are killed in the cross-fire. Dillinger and Hamilton escape separately from Nelson and the rest of the gang. Agents Winstead and Hurt (Don Frye) pursue Dillinger and Hamilton through the woods on foot, engaging them in a running gun battle in which Hamilton is shot and fatally wounded. Trying to escape along the road, Nelson, Shouse Jr. and Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff) hijack a Bureau car, killing several agents in the process, including Purvis’s partner Carter Baum (Rory Cochrane). After a car chase, Purvis and his men kill Nelson and the rest of the gang. Farther down the road, Dillinger and Hamilton steal a farmer’s car and make good their escape; Hamilton dies later that night and Dillinger buries his body, covering it in lye.
Dillinger manages to meet Frechette, telling her he plans to do one last job that will pay enough for them to escape together. However, when Dillinger drops her off at a hotel that he thinks is safe, he watches helplessly as she is captured by The FBI. An interrogator, Agent Harold Reinecke (Adam Mucci) slaps Frechette repeatedly to learn Dillinger’s whereabouts until she fabricates a location where Dillinger is hiding. Agent Reinecke investigates and realizes that he has been lied to. Once Reinecke returns, Frechette begins sneering that they missed their chance to capture him at the hotel, and that Dillinger will be very angry because she was mistreated; Purvis and Winstead arrive and angrily break up the interrogation. Meanwhile, Dillinger is meeting with Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi), who tries to recruit a uninterested Dillinger in a train robbery with his associates, the Barker Gang. After hearing about the massive reward, Dillinger agrees to pull the robbery and flee the country the next day. Dillinger receives a note from Billie through his lawyer, Louis Piquett (Peter Gerety), telling him not to try and break her out of jail.
Through crooked cop Zarkovich, Purvis enlists the help of a madam and Dillinger acquaintance Anna Sage (Branka Katic), threatening her with deportation to Romania if she does not cooperate. She agrees to set up Dillinger, who is hiding with Sage.
That night Dillinger and Sage see a Clark Gable movie called Manhattan Melodrama at the Biograph Theater. When the movie is over, Dillinger and the women leave as Purvis moves in. Dillinger spots the police, specifically Reinecke and is shot several times before he can draw his gun against the cop who harmed Frechette. Agent Winstead, who fired the fatal shot, listens to Dillinger’s last words. Purvis departs to inform Hoover that Dillinger is dead.
Later, Winstead meets Frechette in prison. He tells her that he thinks Dillinger’s dying words were “Tell Billie for me, ‘Bye bye Blackbird.’” The closing text reveals that Melvin Purvis quit the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935 and died by his own hand in 1960, and that Billie lived out of the rest of her life in Wisconsin following her release in 1936.
When I first heard about this picture, I thought it was just a random gangster picture, then I found out it was about the John Dillinger, and it suddenly piqued my interest even more, although I’m not too familiar with Dillinger.
One of the things that gave me immense pleasure, is that none of the posters or any advertising for this film features Christian Bale, but rather Johnny Depp. Why is that you may ask? Well, I detest Christian Bale to the point of wishing him a very painful, torturous, elongated death. I realize that the film is about Dillinger, so of course Depp (who is the more talented, bankable star) is going to be featured, but if you pay all the money for Bale, you would think he’d get at least something, but no such look. Aww…poor guy…NOT!!!!
The good…aside from the posters, the story is very well told and executed. At 2 1/2 hours long, one could easily lose interest, but it never goes off into that overly dramatic way of telling the story. Just as it does, we get a shootout. Maybe that’s was the filmmaker’s way of waking people up? Speaking of those gun fights. I love seeing these gangster era gunfights. THere is just something about hearing a tommy gun fire off a few rounds that I just find totally awesome! Marion Cotillard adds a nice bit of eye candy, without showing much skin, which, in today’s day and time, is something to be commended. Her acting isn’t bad either. Just watch her interrogation scene.
The bad…Christian Bale didn’t die! I know, I know, that’s not how the real events played out and all, but I can wish, right? The little info that they put up on the screen wasn’t on there long enough for a person to read. Now, I watched this on DVD, so I had the luxury of rewinding/pausing, but had I seen this in theaters, I wouldn’t have been able to do so, thus ensuring frustration. I’m a pretty fast reader, so that I couldn’t finish in time is saying something about the speed at which they took those things down. They make such a big deal about Babyface Nelson, but until a climactic scene near the end, you don’t really get/see him much. Again, I know this is about Dillinger, but it would be like if you made a movie about Stan Lee, you couldn’t just leave out Jack Kirby and the other writers and whatnot that helped him build Marvel to what it is today. In other words, there could have been more of Nelson.
Gangsters, tommy guns, set in the 1930s….everythign sets up perfectly for this film. I’m actually surprised that they haven’t mentioned this for an Oscar. Oh wait, it came out during the summer, and isn’t really dark. That automatically disqualifies it in the fickle Oscar voter’s eyes. Such a shame because it is more than worthy. Maybe if they had replaced Marion with Meryl Streep?
Seriously, though, this is an impressive picture. It delivers on everything it sets out to do, except I do think they could have told the story a bit better, but that’s more of a personal observation than a knock against the film. Watching this film, there is no doubt in my mid who the better actor is between Depp and Bale. There is no contest. Of course, Bale always seems to play the same character, just with a different voice, so we really shouldn’t be surprised. Should you rush out to see this? Yes, unless you’re one of those that isn’t into gangster violence or not a fan of Depp and/or Bale.
5 out of 5 stars