At the center of John Milius' Dillinger are two fascinating characters, John Dillinger (Warren Oates) and Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson), and thanks to the wonderful performances delivered by the two leads, we get to see, in great detail, what makes each one of them tick.
During the depression, bank robbers were more than just criminals; they were celebrities, and John Dillinger considered himself the best of the bunch. He was completely aware of his own notoriety, and even boasted when he held up a bank, “You’re being robbed by the John Dillinger gang" he shouts out during one robbery, "and that’s the best there is. These dollars you spend here today will buy you stories to tell you’re grandkids and great-grandkids”.
On the other side of the coin, Melvin Purvis, who was a personal friend of several agents killed by Dillinger and his men, has sworn that he will smoke a cigar over Dillinger’s dead body. As we see time and again throughout the film, Purvis is just as ruthless as the gangster he’s chasing, an ‘ends-justifies-the-means’ officer of the law, which makes him the perfect man for the job.
If you want to bring a mad dog like John Dillinger to justice, it's best to send an even madder one to do it.
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