The outlaw vs. the man of the law. The American folk hero vs. the American federal agent. Johnny Depp vs. Christian Bale. That's the battle taking shape as Michael Mann's "Public Enemies," the true story of tommy-gun-toting bank robber John Dillinger (Depp) and FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Bale), pop-pop-pops its way into theaters, starting on Wednesday (July 1).

Set in the Depression-devastated 1930s, Dillinger forms a gang with some creatively named rule-breakers — Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd — and sets about looting banks that have been foreclosing homes and repossessing goods throughout the Midwest. Along the way, naturally, Dillinger finds time for a little bit of outlaw romance, as he falls head-over-machine-gun for Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), a vulnerable lounge singer. FBI head honcho J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) tasks Purvis with the task of capturing Dillinger and putting the kibosh on this crime wave sweeping the crisis-stricken country.

Will you root for the gangster or the law enforcer during this patriotic holiday weekend? Duck for cover and check out MTV's "Public Enemies" Cheat Sheet before you make up your mind.

Bringing Real-Life Gangsters Into the New Millennium

The events portrayed in the film took place almost 80 years ago, and Mann placed a great deal of emphasis on getting his facts right.

"Michael Mann is one of the most thorough researchers that I've ever come across," Bale told us last summer. "So, I had more than an abundance of information about [the history]. I also travelled to the FBI headquarters and met with the family of the character I was playing.

"We shot at the actual locations where the events took place," he added. "It was uncanny on a number of occasions; we were filming on the actual dates where the gunfights happened, in the same place, at the same time!"

The Stars

In January 2008, co-star John Ortiz, who plays Sicilian gangster Frank Nitti, kicked us some inside knowledge about the production and his work alongside Depp and Bale. Joining this group was Channing Tatum as Floyd. In April of that year, Crudup signed on for the role of Hoover.

"It's a supporting part," Crudup told us earlier this year. "It's kind of a cameo."

The Allure of the Gangster Lifestyle

As the movie wrapped production and the stars began to speak to MTV News about it, they talked often about the appeal of living outside the law.

"The best thing about being an outlaw was the machine gun — and unlimited ammunition," Depp said at the Hollywood premiere of "Enemies."

Bale said the best part of outlaw life was "the finest cars. ... [Their] cars have this artistry, and they have a sense of the character."

"You can make your own rules, and bend the rules," said Leelee Sobieski, who plays one of Dillinger's lovers. "[When you're a gangster], crazy things will happen."

But are these folks scofflaws in real life? "I'm constantly breaking laws," Depp told us with a laugh.

The Visions

In March, we debuted a series of photos from "Enemies," including one of Depp clutching his tommy gun and Bale stalking the fugitive in the woods.

Ten days later, we showed off the film's first trailer. And, as always, we've brought you a ton of interviews with the cast, including one in which Bale spoke glowingly about Depp's commitment to blazing his own path.

The Future

After taking a year off work, Bale is returning for "The Fighter," in which he plays an ex-convict who trains his boxer half-brother, played by Mark Wahlberg. Depp moves on to two films in the next year: a fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" and an adaptation of the 1960s supernatural TV series, "Dark Shadows." As for Mann, his next directorial project is anything but clear. Jamie Foxx told us in April that he and Mann would be gearing up for "Damage Control," about a Mr. Fix-It lawyer who represents troubled sports stars. Whether that becomes his next big screen effort remains to be seen.

Check out everything we've got on "Public Enemies."

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