The film Public Enemy is a stylish gangster film based on the life of John Dillinger, the notorious American outlaw during the great depression era, who was known for organizing huge bank robberies and famous jail breaks. During the depression era, John Dillinger along with many of his other famous criminal contemporaries organized hundreds of successful bank robberies and the period was later considered the ‘Golden Era’, for criminals such as Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, Alvin Karpis and for hundreds more such criminals. But among all the outlaw’s, it was John Dillinger who managed to capture the imagination of the public, mostly through his sense of humour, looks and recklessness. So Dillinger was a high profile criminal and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was under immense pressure to capture Dillinger and in fact the bureau was only then newly formed, to tackle precisely the problems created by men such as Dillinger himself.
The film starts with gunfights between the police and Dillinger’s men, when they try to organize a jailbreak, which eventually turns out to be only partly successful. On the other hand FBI agent Melvin Purvis kills Pretty Boy Floyd in a different encounter while he tries to escape and gets promoted as a result. Hearing the news Edgar Hoover, the founding director of the FBI assigns agent Melvin Purvis with the task of capturing Dillinger, after being impressed by Pervis’s combat skills.
Initially Pervis faces some major setbacks, especially when Dillinger manages to escape from the jail in Indiana shortly after he is arrested, by fooling the police officers with just a wooden pistol. The news even enrages Mr. Roosevelt, the American president and it almost ends up jeopardizing Edgar Hoover’s position as head of the FBI.
Dillinger while all this is happening spends his time in clubs, tasting expensive wines, buying elegant clothes, dancing and enjoying. He even finds himself a beautiful lover. Dillinger is doing all this while he is supposed to be hiding underground and evading police officers while they are ruthlessly pursuing him. But slowly Dillinger starts to feel the pressure, as he starts to realize now the rich men who once supported him are starting to drift away from him and on the other hand robbing banks are no longer easy as they use to be. This is the time when many robbers start to move away from robbery and towards much cleaner and safer professions and in this regard, even Dillinger is regularly advised by some of his friends and well wishers. But Dillinger being the kind of person he is, refuses to give up his hedonist lifestyle and decides to live it in his own reclusive ways, not bothering to see the changes happening around him and fails to realize his time is almost over. On the other hand agent Purvis has set a clever trap to get Dillinger and in the final climax of the film, director Michael Mann lets the audience know who wins in the end, while also keeping the story nicely packed with a lot of suspense.