Michael Mann goes deep on ‘Public Enemies’

Posted by · 10:38 am · June 16th, 2009

Michael MannThere’s a reason Michael Mann is my favorite working director.  Consistently saddled with accusations of unyielding perfectionism and idiosyncrasy, he is a filmmaker who sets out to make exactly the film he wants to make every time, and he has the goods to back up the artistic aggression.  The last two times out of the gate (2004’s “Collateral” and 2006’s “Miami Vice”) didn’t exactly capitalize on his considerable talents, but when “Public Enemies,” which I saw last night, plays the Los Angeles Film Festival next week and eventually opens nationwide July 1, I think audiences and critics alike will see it as a return to muscular, yet patient storytelling form.

Patrick Goldstein, writing at The Big Picture blog in the Los Angeles Times, has crafted a wonderfully fair and engaging interview piece with the director (which is also a coup for Universal publicity).  He doesn’t skirt the issue when it comes to Mann’s industry infamy, dedicating a considerable chunk to the director’s professional head-butting with Sony honcho Amy Pascal concerning the particular’s of 2001’s “Ali.”  But the work stands head and shoulders above the off-the-screen conflicts every time.  Says Pascal in the piece, “You forget about the pain of childbirth too. I mean, whatever you go through, you still want another baby. It’s like that with Michael too.”

I also have to give it up to Mann’s professionalism when it comes to publicity, shutting down Goldstein when it came to a similar discussion regarding Johnny Depp’s supposed lack of patience with Mann’s exacting on-the-set process.  “For me, what goes on in a film set is sacrosanct,” Mann tells Goldstein, “so I have nothing to say about what went on.”

All this discussion about Mann’s 66-year-old swagger and bad boy tenacity makes for a great lead-in to what I consider the meat of the piece, a two-graph juxtaposition between the director and the subject of his latest film:

It’s not so hard to see parallels between Mann, who has the fierce independence of an earlier generation of Hollywood filmmakers, and Dillinger, who is portrayed in “Public Enemies” as something of an anachronism, a lone wolf being squeezed out of the bank-robbing trade by the growing corporatization of crime. A key element in Mann’s conception of the film — which he wrote with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman — is that it wasn’t just J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI who was gunning for Dillinger, but the newly organized crime syndicates who saw freelance outlaws like Dillinger as threats to their nationwide business aspirations.

“Dillinger was actually obsolete, but he was so damn good at what he did that he managed to survive, despite all the horrible attrition around him,” explains Mann, who makes a point in the film of showing that virtually all of Dillinger’s cohorts were gunned down before he famously meets his end outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater. “There are two big evolutionary forces at work. There’s what Hoover is doing with the FBI, with information gathering and data management. And there’s organized crime, being cash rich, moving into corporate capitalism, and they don’t want these Depression outlaws around [inspiring the Feds to pass crime legislation] against moving money across interstate lines.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I want to talk “Public Enemies” in depth right this second, but a June 23 embargo date has my hands tied.  And that’s fair enough, because it’s a film that deserves some time to percolate.  Check out the rest of Goldstein’s inteview at The Big Picture.

(Oh, funniest aside from the piece, what with all the talk of exactitude: “I got a little taste of it myself, cooling my heels in Mann’s outer office before the filmmaker came out to meet me, with his assistant explaining that I’d have to wait ‘until he finishes thinking.'”)

→ 40 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

40 responses so far

  • 1 6-16-2009 at 10:48 am

    Joel said...

    Haven’t seen Ali or Miami Vice, but Heat, Insider, and Collateral are all masterworks, in my opinion. Can’t fridiggin’ wait for Public Enemies. Mann’s an artist.

  • 2 6-16-2009 at 10:53 am

    Brando said...

    I saw Miami Vice and I didn’t expected it would be soo good.

  • 3 6-16-2009 at 11:43 am

    John said...

    I respect the embargo, but is there any way you can tell us about the Oscar prospects for this film? Is best picture and actor (and maybe supporting actor) in the cards?

  • 4 6-16-2009 at 11:46 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    My thoughts on its Oscar prospects haven’t changed.

  • 5 6-16-2009 at 11:46 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Though as one commenter who had seen the filma t a test screening mentioned a few weeks ago, Crudup is not in the film enough to warrant a supporting nod. It’s all Depp, all the time.

  • 6 6-16-2009 at 11:52 am

    actionman said...

    Soooo pumped for this.

  • 7 6-16-2009 at 11:56 am

    Brando said...

    I think that Michael Mann could be nominated and for me have better chances than Jane Campion.

  • 8 6-16-2009 at 12:05 pm

    Mike_M said...

    Really interested in your take of PE Kris. I still have problems when I watch the trailer with the digital look (similar to a discovery channel re-enactment to me). I will wait to pass judgment on the film after I see, but I hope I will be pleasantly surprised since this is one of my most highly anticipated films of the year.

  • 9 6-16-2009 at 12:28 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Kris, could you offer a thought on Bale?

  • 10 6-16-2009 at 1:22 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Gittes: Would rather not go there yet.

  • 11 6-16-2009 at 1:52 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Miami Vice is a great action flick. Engaging, magnificent action, and a propelling script. It’s the whole other side of coolness, opposite from Clint.

  • 12 6-16-2009 at 2:04 pm

    Ricardus said...

    Miami Vice is Mann’s best film, and one of the best of the decade. It’s just so jarringly unconcerned with its audience and more concerned with the uncompromising perspective of its characters. But look close enough, it’s all there. (Best article on it, though still way incomplete: http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/07/42/miami-vice.html)

    Thus I’m kind of disappointed Kris likes this. I wanted it to be that new wave film trapped in Hollywood. Eh, maybe it can be both.

  • 13 6-16-2009 at 2:17 pm

    vermontfudge said...

    How can you possibly fairly review a movie when you have months ago committed yourself to the position that it has no Oscar chances? You “prognosticators” take pride in your accurate predictions. Are you somehow immune from the natural tendency to defend one’s position once taken? How can you possibly say you approached this movie with an open mind once you’ve “predicted” that it has no major Oscar chances? How can you say that your review will not be influenced by your interest in “winning” the predictions game, that is in persuading others that its not that good. I “predict” your review will not be whole-heartedly enthusiastic. I also predict that in your review you won’t mention that long ago you predicted, sight unseen, that this movie had no chance for major Oscars. I also predict that this “prediction” game is bad for good films. The loss of real reviewers who write for newspapers and magazines that have some ethical standards and would never allow a “game” like this to affect reviews is really a shame.

  • 14 6-16-2009 at 2:28 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    vermontfudge: I can say I approached it with an open mind because I’m an adult about such things. I’m sorry to see you are not.

    My year in advance Oscar predictions are nothing but a fun stab in the dark. Anyone who thinks he or she is going to be “right” about such nonsense so far in advance is a fool. I’m not trying to be “right” about such things right now. And, obviously, I didn’t even bring up the Oscar issue here; commenters wanting to know what I made of the film’s Oscar chances did.

    When I publish my three-and-a-half-star review raving the directorial handling of the material and Johnny Depp’s powerful performance, yet offering still that a major Oscar run seems a bit unlikely based on factors completely beside the point of quality, I’ll look forward to an apology.


  • 15 6-16-2009 at 2:33 pm

    El Rocho said...

    Mann is incredible. Manhunter was great. The Last of the Mohicans, in my opinion, is his best to date. Ali, Heat, Collateral–all amazing. Miami Vice was great, too, but too much of a good thing; too much on style and look. But I cannot wait for ‘Public Enemies’!

  • 16 6-16-2009 at 2:35 pm

    El Rocho said...

    The Insider, too. Brilliant work.

  • 17 6-16-2009 at 2:38 pm

    Mike_M said...

    3.5 wow, great news. It seems that means the digital look didn’t take you our of the picture (I am not a hater on digital by the way, the trailer and other clips just don’t seem to mesh with me for some reason).

  • 18 6-16-2009 at 2:48 pm

    JC said...

    I’m hoping this will be one of the better mainstream films to come out in 2009, but giving the film a lower grade than Star Trek (which was, for me, a 3-star film, tops) suggests that it might only slide into the bottom half of my Top 10 of 2009, if that. We’ll see, at any rate.

  • 19 6-16-2009 at 2:56 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Can’t wait for Goldenthal’s music in this.

  • 20 6-16-2009 at 3:09 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It’s sparse. Heat-esque.

  • 21 6-16-2009 at 3:10 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    JC: You’ll probably like it more than Star Trek. I’m a huge fan of Abrams’ film, obviously, and the ride it provided, so…

  • 22 6-16-2009 at 3:31 pm

    ManInBlack said...

    Oh, only 3.5 stars. I guess that’s not really a rave. Good. If it’s not a little divisive, then it’s probably not interesting enough (like, someone calling The New World one of the year’s worst). And Kris, you won’t know what Mann is about no matter how many times you say you do. You’re too much of the film school mold to notice the full picture. Hell, that’s why you run an Oscar site. You’ll always be the comic book/oscar/geeky cinephile (the occasional Aguirre and Last Days doesn’t count) . Now go get the new Criterion of Last Year at Marienbad… and really, really try to write a penetrating review. I just want to see it!

  • 23 6-16-2009 at 3:33 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ooh, another child (and snob) in our midst. We’re better off without ya, kiddo. But it’s cute/sad that you think you know so much about me.

    (P.S.: I know I’m an awful film reviewer. If I were ever good at being a blow-hard, I’d want to shoot myself in the face.)

  • 24 6-16-2009 at 3:58 pm

    ManInBlack said...

    You mean, actually try and write about a film without using prepackaged adjectives and generalizations? That’s awful, you’d have to try and think about film over film industry. Oh, and being particular about films is not being snobbish. Of course, tho, you’d see Last Year at Marienbad, hence the use, and link it to a snob pulling one from his snob catalog and not, ya know, think someone genuinely interested. Cute enough? One word that rises above even film snobs who just like being cute: Crash (not the Cronenberg!) Child, kiddo, cute… ehh, even your two line attack rebuttals are redundant. And yes, you are an awful film reviewer and a blow hard. Jeffery Wells-esque. Good reviewer =/= blowhard. Film analysis =/= snobbery. Kris = film bro’. Hollywood selllooouuut.

  • 25 6-16-2009 at 4:02 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    No I’m linking the term “snob” to your overall disagreeable disposition. Never said one word about “Last Year.” But I hope you can find some happiness in your life, oh anonymous accuser.

  • 26 6-16-2009 at 4:17 pm

    ManInBlack said...

    Well now that we got things straight, I have to say that the design of this site is pretty nice and classy looking (I remember some black before tho, liked that a bit more). I do like that. And you get good pub… found a link to here based solely on “omg someone saw PE! Here:” Always love to see the Taps’ reaction (rabid follower since OW), but been behind over the past few years. Looking so forward to your breakdown of PE… all those wonderful Michael Mann gestures and voice inflections the actors give to build backstory out of nothing… the conceptual angle of the harsh cinematography… the “compression” of the story as MM puts it describing PE (as he did with MV, wonderfully)… the ocean lookout moment (sans the ocean here I guess)… the shape of the gunshots (explosive like Heat or inverted like MV?!)… looking forward to it ALL on 23rd! –Anonymous Accuser.

  • 27 6-16-2009 at 4:21 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ah, the 23rd. We’ll be under the same roof at LAFF, then. Please, come say hello.

    (Explosive, by the way. Puts you right in the moment.)

  • 28 6-16-2009 at 4:39 pm

    expet said...

    Kristopher Tapley , you will write three-and-a-half-star review about Public Enemies, but how many stars give you to the other Michael Mann movies like Heat, The Insider, Ali, Collateral and Miami Vice so we can see the difference between these films and Public Enemies.

  • 29 6-16-2009 at 4:49 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Damn it! Why can’t you give Public Enemies 3 and 3/4th stars!? The world is ending!

    John Murphy’s under appreciated score for Miami Vice is pretty sparse as well. Mann relied more on Audioslave than Murphy. Didn’t like that.

  • 30 6-16-2009 at 5:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    exept: Here you go…

    Thief: 3.5
    The Keep: 0
    Manhunter: 3
    Heat: 4
    The Insider: 4
    Ali: 3.5
    Collateral: 3
    Miami Vice: 2.5
    Public Enemies: 3.5

    Gittes: LOVED Murphy’s work in that film, but yeah, a little too much Audioslave (much as I like the band and the usage, in doses).

    Goldenthal nabs the two-note Joker theme from TDK here and there to nice effect. It approaches Trever Jones’s work in “Mohicans” at times, too.

  • 31 6-16-2009 at 5:28 pm

    david said...

    Damn…I was really hoping Depp might land a Best Actor nomination for this…oh well…it won’t take away from my excitement about seeing the film.

  • 32 6-16-2009 at 5:37 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    david: Certainly in the realm of possibility. As contenders inevitably begin to fall away, I expect his work will still be in the hunt.

  • 33 6-16-2009 at 6:14 pm

    andrew said...

    Kris, what about Marion Cotillard? From the things I’ve read here and there, quite a few people have singled her out. Is that warranted or is she just kinda there looking pretty?

  • 34 6-16-2009 at 6:20 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    No, it’s warranted. More later.

  • 35 6-17-2009 at 2:44 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    So I believe we can conclude this movie will be the big hit with critics and audiences alike and not score major award attention. In other words, a beloved film and the Academy will not be taken serious again. Just like TDK.

  • 36 6-17-2009 at 2:03 pm

    expet said...

    Thank you Kristopher Tapley. I really hoped that you would also give 4 stars to Public Enemies, but next week we will read your review so we can see exactly what you think of the movie.

  • 37 6-17-2009 at 10:17 pm

    Rob said...

    Saw this tonight, and, while I respect your opinion, I’m kind of flabbergasted at your reaction, Kris.

    I love Mann — I’m a constant defender/apologist of “Ali” and “Miami Vice” — but I think this is the most flat, lifeless movie he’s ever made.

    I actually look forward to reading your review because, frankly, I’m at a loss as to what one could be enthusiastic about here. Very curious what critical and audience reaction will be, though I have a feeling neither will be particularly enthusiastic.

  • 38 6-17-2009 at 11:58 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    There was a round of applause at my screening. I expect it’ll do pretty well but I’m terrible at predicting such things.

  • 39 6-18-2009 at 4:57 pm

    Kay said...

    Do you think Marion/Depp have at least any chance of bein nominated for awards, Kris?

  • 40 6-21-2009 at 2:42 am

    Rob said...

    Encouraging thoughts Kris. Looking forward to the reviews. Its my kind of summer movie, I do hope Depp is remembered come nomination day, but the timings of the release certainly seem stacked against him!