It’s a little difficult to understand why outlaws become
anti-heroes in the public consciousness.
If they are “Robin Hood”-like, perhaps, taking from the rich and
giving to the poor, or “Zorro”-like, thwarting an oppressive bureaucracy
on behalf of the common folk, without really hurting anybody.
But John Dillinger was neither of these.
He was just a thug, an armed robber, and a murderer.
So it’s a little mystifying why he should be idolized, or lionized,
even, but it’s a curious reality about American pop culture heritage that
we all know the names of Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, and
John Dillinger, all Depression-era criminals, but we would have a hard time
naming, say, the Secretary of State at the time.
Johnny Depp plays John Dillinger in “Public Enemies,” but with a
curious lack of charisma. Shorn
of his trademark mane, outlandish garb and colorful persona in the
“Pirates of the
” series, he seems kind of, well, like an ordinary crook.
He escapes from prison, meets up with his gang, robs banks, and
generally terrorizes a hapless populace.
And yes, they shoot people who dare to oppose them, including police.
In fact, most local police departments do not have nearly the
firepower nor the investigative expertise to track down a ruthless, violent
gang like this, which was a good part of the reason, historically, for the
emergence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Yes, we all snigger over the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover now.
But as a young firebrand then (played by Billy Crudup), declaring
these notorious criminals “public enemies” and bringing experienced and
relentless law enforcement veterans to focus on tracking them down, it’s
obvious that we owe a debt of gratitude to his single-mindedness.
Dillinger’s relationship with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard)
is romanticized in the movie, but she did, in fact, go to prison for
harboring him, and he did, in fact, consort with others while she served her
time. And he was, in fact,
hunted down by a determined G-man named Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) who
quit the FBI shortly afterwards.
Depp’s Dillinger seems almost resigned to his fate, both as a
hardened criminal and in his short-lived public “career.”
He had a vague plan about running off to
someday, but it was always going to be after the next big heist, so we all
knew it was never going to happen. He’d
just keep robbing and killing until somebody stopped him.
What’s romantic about that?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace