On ‘Public Enemies’

Posted by · 9:12 am · March 11th, 2009

Public EnemeisDuring our week away, materials landed for one of my own most anticipated films of the year: Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies.”  I haven’t taken a moment to really dig in to this yet, but here goes…

The first thought I had when I saw the trailer was that this is the most un-Mann tease I’ve ever seen.  The latter half montage under Otis Taylor’s “Ten Million Slaves,” however, is vintage Mann, wallowing in the rush of narrative flow, images both beautiful and unusual, it’s all signature.  And for a guy like me who puts Mann on a pretty high pedestal, those final moments are exciting for those reasons.

No one seems to want to admit the poster is just bad, and that’s fine.  Who wants to sour the mood?  But it screams “studio” and has no artistic focus.  It’s a figment of selling the film first and that’s okay, but it’s graphically awkward and visually impotent.  It says nothing.  Maybe we’ll see another one before release, but truth be told, I’ve never been particularly impressed with a poster for a Mann film.

I’ve heard Marion Cotillard is quite good in the film, and of course, Johnny Depp looks like he’s cranking out a special performance.  Christian Bale will be nice background flavor but I don’t sense the symbiosis of, say, “American Gangster.”  I wonder if Billy Crudup might finally be on the cusp of “arriving” after nearly a decade of solid work without a real breakthrough to show for it.  His work here could mix with his positive notices for “Watchmen” and make a perfect publicity storm.  Or not.

I’m most excited at the idea of Mann teaming up with lenser Dante Spinotti after a 10-year break.  I don’t think the director was tinkering with digital very much in their last collaboration, “The Insider,” but it’s become his adopted style as of late and it may or may not work in a period piece such as this.  Ultimately, I think it might make the film too slick to be seen as prestigious.  We’ll see.

On the whole, I don’t get a big awards vibe from this film.  I think it’s perfectly positioned to make good money but it’s also very much on a “Road to Perdition” trajectory.  Maybe I’m just muting expectations, but I see commercial success, design respect, not much else.  But who cares about Oscars?  I’m stoked.

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30 responses so far

  • 1 3-11-2009 at 9:57 am

    Michael McKay said...

    This is my most anticipated film of the year. It would be nice to see Depp land another Best Actor nomination. I LOVE the slick digital look of the film, and I think it will give that particular era in time a refreshing new facelift. The Road to Perdition had a pretty slick look about it as well, and ended up winning the Oscar for Best Cinematography. It might be a matter of taste though.

    This may or may not be a Best Picture contender, but it might very well end up being a damn cool piece of entertainment, and one of the more memorable films of 2009.

  • 2 3-11-2009 at 10:04 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Thank you — finally someone else agrees with me that the poster is a major missed opportunity. Oh well.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been waiting for Billy Crudup’s breakthrough FOREVER — sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who remembers (or even saw) how fantastic he was in “Jesus’ Son” all those years ago. (Speaking of which, whither Alison Maclean? Anyway, off topic.)

    Michael: “Road to Perdition” may have been “pretty slick,” but place the emphasis on “pretty” — which isn’t really Mann’s forte.

  • 3 3-11-2009 at 10:13 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Ever since Drew Struzan started getting snubbed by studios in favor of digital photoshop work, most movie posters have sucked in general.

    As for Public Enemies, I’m not sure. The trailer looks exciting, but that’s what trailers are supposed to do. I’m also getting serious American Gangster vibes from this film, that is, the production values and star quality are excellent but the final product ends up not being very special or resonant.

    Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

  • 4 3-11-2009 at 10:38 am

    Chad said...

    I didn’t see much to get excited about in the trailer. I like that Mann uses digital but I don’t think he’s using it very well here. I’m not on the Depp train so unless the reviews are glowing, I’ll probably skip it.

  • 5 3-11-2009 at 12:12 pm

    GordonsGirl said...

    Mr. Lodge, you are not alone in your love for Crudup and “Jesus’ Son.” I seriously love that movie. The scene where he listens to the the Mennonite woman singing is an underappreciated masterpiece.

    As for Mr. Crudup, I wonder if he purposely avoids big movie fame. He’s made no secret of his passion – preference, even – for stage work. I remember reading how he’s made a small fortune from his voiceovers in the “priceless” credit card ads, allowing him to concentrate on theater without worrying about paying the bills.

    I can’t wait to see “Public Enemies.” A big fan of Michael Mann, I did avoid “Miami Vice.” Hopefully, this will be closer to “The Insider” – his masterpiece – or, at least, “Collateral.”

  • 6 3-11-2009 at 12:35 pm

    Casey Fiore said...

    I think it looks fantastic. prolly my # 1 most anticipated of the year. Poster sucks tho, you are right. And thanks, Tapley, for the name of the song. Just downloaded it. Banjo hasn’t been this cool since Deliverance. ouch

  • 7 3-11-2009 at 12:39 pm

    Ash said...

    The digital look just doesn’t work for me at all, in this instance. It clashes with the tone and period and looks like something made for television.

  • 8 3-11-2009 at 12:50 pm

    SaltireFlower said...

    The poster looks a lot like the one used for Road to Perdition. And some people have pointed out that it looks like the Dark Knight poster featuring the Joker.

    I have mixed feelings about the trailer and the digital look takes some getting used to, especially for a period piece.VVThough it seems to have worked for Benjamin Button. But it’s Michael Mann and Johnny Depp. It’s pretty hard to not be excited about this movie.

  • 9 3-11-2009 at 1:05 pm

    Roy said...

    This was my most anticipated film for the summer, but the trailer was definitely underwhelming. Cotillard looks good (in more ways than one), but Depp kinda seems to be coasting on stuff he’s done before (how many times can one person stare with squinted eyes in film?). The thing that disappointed me the most though was the digital. It looks AWFUL, like it’s some rough cut of the film. The disappointment is over the fact that if they used regular film, this thing could have looked BEAUTIFUL. What a missed opportunity.

  • 10 3-11-2009 at 2:10 pm

    SoaringEagleCasinoMountPleasantMI said...

    it wasn’t in my top ten, but now it is!

  • 11 3-11-2009 at 3:30 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Am I the only one that truly adored American Gangster?

    I can’t imagine the last Mann-film I didn’t like. I still love Miami Vice, if only for it’s professional distance from the main characters.

  • 12 3-11-2009 at 3:44 pm

    John K said...

    Definitely my most anticipated film of the year. I love Mann – he used to be my favorite director up until I finally saw “Magnolia,” at which point PTA usurped the throne.

    In terms of Oscars, I think Depp’s an extremely strong contender. Mann is deceptively good at getting nominations for his actors, even in his more “commercial” films. (Jamie Foxx for “Collateral,” anyone?) If Johnny Depp can get nominated for “Pirates,” then he can get nominated for “Public Enemies.”

    There seems to be anticipation for Crudup. I’m more curious about Channing Tatum, who has the potential to be the next Russell Crowe if he plays his cards right.

  • 13 3-11-2009 at 4:29 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    I don’t know anyone who said the poster was good? Pretty sure we were all more than willing to admit it.

    Also John K Channing Tatum is more the next Eric Roberts, except the Eric Roberts who played his cards right, hopefully.

  • 14 3-11-2009 at 4:54 pm

    parker said...

    deep, bale, crudup, tatum – that’s one tasty cast

  • 15 3-11-2009 at 6:12 pm

    Michael McKay said...

    Why is it that some people have such a distaste of digital cinematography in general??

    I prefer it over the look of regular film. It’s just so sharp, and I think it’s invigorating to see it used in a “period” film, rather then some small scale indie film set in the modern day.

  • 16 3-11-2009 at 7:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Mann is deceptively good at getting nominations for his actors, even in his more “commercial” films. (Jamie Foxx for “Collateral,” anyone?”

    That’s the one…and only…example. So I wouldn’t call him “deceptively good” at it. Nothing for Vice, wouldn’t call “Ali” commercial, nothing for “Heat,” and so on.

  • 17 3-11-2009 at 11:41 pm

    Glenn said...

    I’m liking the use of digital here. It’s always good to see old stories through new eyes of sorts and at least now this movie feels a bit different to all the rest. it may only be aesthetic, but something visually invigorating could have helped “American Gangster” a lot, too.

    The poster is horrible though, but, Robert, saying stuff like “Ever since Drew Struzan started getting snubbed by studios in favor of digital photoshop work, most movie posters have sucked in general” is really REALLY stupid. I won’t deny that Struzan made classic posters and I wish key art design was more classical in a sense, but Struzan has been on autopilot for a very long time. Recreating that exact same stacked look where every single character from the movie seems to put on plus sets and even inanimate objects all with that ever-present glow. And I think we can all agree that his work on posters for movies like “Taking Care of Business”, “Nadine” and “Shirley Valentine” are better off forgotten.

    I very much think Struzan is “of an era” and while it’s sad that that style of poster has gone by the wayside it just wouldn’t make sense a movie like “Public Enemies” to use that style in 2009. Hell, if you look at the movies he was doing posters for back in hey day around the early ’80s a lot of them were for comedies involving wacky hyjinx or big budget adventure movies so it’s not like the studio would have hired him anyway.

  • 18 3-12-2009 at 5:52 am

    BurmaShave said...

    Tapley, to look at it another way, there have been four acting nominations for three of Mann’s last four movies. Wasn’t really sure what he was saying about deceptively or genre though…

  • 19 3-12-2009 at 7:34 am

    actionman said...

    Listen. Michael Mann has to yet to make anything less than a **** major motion picture (except for The Keep).

    This film is going to be the film of the summert, and one of the best of the year. Bet on it.

    The digital look will separate the film from EVERY OTHER entry in the genre.

  • 20 3-12-2009 at 8:07 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Actionman: Do you mean a four-star major motion picture, or are you blanking an expletive?

    “Miami Vice” was a severe misstep, if you ask me. (I’m not all that keen on “Collateral” and “Ali” either, though I can see why either film has its fans. But “Vice” was borderline disastrous, from where I was standing.)

  • 21 3-12-2009 at 8:46 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Wow, not only am I stupid, I’m REALLY stupid with big capital letters.

    Even on “autopilot”, Struzan’s work far outclasses these poor photoshopped posters of the last decade. Take a look at some of the rejected posters that he drew for Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth and compare them to what the studios eventually went with.

    At least his posters, even his worst ones, presented some kind of setting and aesthetic feel. What the hell am I supposed to get out of this Public Enemies poster other than Johnny Depp’s in it and he plays a gangster? And this idea that “it just wouldn’t make sense” for him to do something like Public Enemies because his work was mostly “for comedies involving wacky hyjinx or big budget adventure movies”, that’s a bunch of crap. While that’s certainly his most popular work, he’s not incapable of doing great work on films like The Shawshank Redemption and Blood Makes Noise.

  • 22 3-12-2009 at 9:13 am

    actionman said...

    Guy, I meant that he makes, at least for me, nothing but 4 star movies.

    Miami Vice is a work of art. And I mean that wholeheartedly. Same with Ali.

  • 23 3-12-2009 at 10:14 am

    Joel said...

    Haven’t seen Ali, but Collateral was absolutely thrilling. My #2 film from 2004.

  • 24 3-12-2009 at 12:54 pm

    CasinosInArizona said...

    this is co cool!

  • 25 3-12-2009 at 7:41 pm

    John K said...

    Yeah, BurmaShave got what I was trying to say, albeit in a much more succinct fashion. I have a habit of obfuscating my points on occasion.

  • 26 3-13-2009 at 1:24 am

    Chad said...

    Miami Vice is a work of art. But it’s also a shitty movie.

  • 27 4-06-2009 at 7:37 pm

    Erik Henderson said...

    Casey Flore had asked a name of the song, was it the song at the end of the trailer, possibly titled “All alone”. I was also wondering what the name of the song was and who it was by?

  • 28 5-03-2009 at 5:28 pm

    Mark said...

    The song is called 10 Million Slaves by Otis Taylor.

  • 29 5-03-2009 at 5:51 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    The song’s name was listed in the copy of this piece. Read, folks.