In all fairness, however, it must be admitted that Public Enemies is not just Mann’s failure. It is also another in a long line of equally inexplicable failures to successfully translate the myth of John Dillinger and his eventual demise to the screen. I use the term inexplicable because if the Dillinger legend is anything, it is unquestionably a great story. It has love, violence, friendship, irony, and death. It has a charismatic antihero and, in the person of straitlaced FBI agent Melvin Purvis, who led the manhunt, the stoic nemesis who eventually takes him down. It is a quintessentially American story featuring two classic American archetypes—the free-spirited outlaw and the upstanding sheriff—locked in a duel to the death in a world not unlike that of the Western but much more recognizably ours. In other words, it is a story that seems tailor-made for the movies. And yet, Hollywood has proven consistently incapable of doing it justice.
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