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July 02, 2009

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Tony Dayoub

I am a major Mann fan, and I have to say I walked in with some trepidation myself. While I subscribe to the same notion in regards to his use of HD to capture intimacy and immediacy, I feared it would somehow feel anachronistic in the gangster genre.

Mann proved me wrong. It actually gave the film a "you are there" sheen that oddly worked in a complimentary fashion to the more artistic flourishes you mentioned. Just as Keith Uhlich once called Miami Vice a tone poem, Public Enemies seemed to be striking a balance between the poetic and the documentary in a way I've rarely seen before (reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde, and Melville).

The movie is a summation of his filmography in many ways, synthesizing his exploration of machismo and his maturing opinion on the ability/inability to streamline one's lifestyle by discarding personal attachments (touched upon in Thief and Heat), while inviting some actors from his repertory back into the fold (Stephen Lang, so nice to see you again) and returning to his home turf of Chicago.

This is his first movie that confirms my suspicion that he is focused on a larger tapestry than he has previously been given credit for.

bill

I'm a Mann acolyte who can fully understand your agnosticism. But for me, he's only had two outright misfires -- "Miami Vice" and (shudder) "The Keep" -- while everything else* has achieved, for me, varying levels of wonderfulness.

Glenn, the dialogue you claim drives you up the wall kind of has the same effect on me (and there's loads of it in "Heat", a film which nevertheless continues to knock me out), but he compensates visually, narratively, and simply by knowing how to put a damn movie together. And I think he's probably the single best director of action alive today.

I read the Bryan Burrough book last year, and it was a hell of a read. My concern is that Mann will take the angle loved by many in Hollywood, and portray Dillinger as some kind of folk hero. Burrough certainly doesn't portray him that way, and he has apparently given the film the okay. Plus, that idea would not be in keeping with Mann's past work, so I'm probably worrying about nothing. And that Dargis quote also gives me hope.

I'll be seeing "Public Enemies" as soon as I possibly can.

bill

Oh, and the asterisk after "everything else" was supposed to lead to a footnote in which I admitted to never having seen "Ali". You can unbate your breath now.

Tony Dayoub

Bill,

Dillinger is portrayed as a folk hero... to an extent. The film does a swell job showing that he was many things to many people. And (shades of Heat) you never really side with him any more than you side with Purvis (Christian Bale). The only true bad guy in the film IMHO is J. Edgar Hoover.

bill

Tony - Well, that bothers me. Dillinger was no hero. He was perceived as a hero to some, it's true, and he relished that, but he wasn't. He was a criminal, plain and simple. A bank robber and a murderer. So Mann going that route, even a little, worries me. But if Dillinger is to "Public Enemies" what Neil McCauley was to "Heat", that's fine.

Purvis was incompetent, but I'm more or less okay with them changing that. If Purvis has to stand in for all the good agents that can't be fit into the film, then fine.

But Hoover being more of a villain than Dillinger is kind of a joke, particularly in the 30s.

Matthias Galvin

As one of the few ardent defenders of Miami Vice, I think all I really need to say about it is: it might rank among one of his best if watched (almost entirely) on MUTE. That being said, ("content" or not), it's just the film that's a syllabus of the Mann style. Personally, I think it's fascinating when filmmakers make those films, because it's rare when they do.

Re. Public Enemies

The thing I find most interesting that Mann did in the film is that there really isn't a particularly strong emotional connection with any character (which isn't helped by the overblown dialogue, as Glenn pointed out). Rather, Mann has refined drawing the viewer in with compositions: As D.W. Griffith noted, (cited:
http://www.theauteurs.com/notebook/posts/800
)
the elements of the HD image begin to subvert its composition because of the detail. But given that it's a period piece, and Mann has taken the time to make it as detailed as possible (or at least publicize as much--none of us can know how authentic it really is), what Mann is doing is trying to make the film seem something of a historical document of the period. (as Tony noted in his initial post).

And while I'm a Mann fan myself, it apears the consensus is that this film falls short of great. I can very much see that. Perhaps, as David Thomson wished, Mann will make a film about Women or about Age, one that has the strength to persuade even the uninitiated.

Scott Nye

Glenn - Thank God I'm not the only one who found "Heat" to be overblown. Some fine action sequences, but boy you gotta slog through way too much to get there.

I'm still on the fence about "Public Enemies" since seeing it yesterday morning. I agree that the last twenty minutes are pretty staggering (but I'll take that massive shootout/chase at the hideout over any action sequence so far this year), and pretty much cemented Depp's performance, which I'd been unsure of up to that point. For the first time in years, I didn't feel Depp acting, but - especially by the end - really felt the character. Might help that this is the first time in years he hasn't acted in a "Pirates" movie or a Burton flick.

But the extent to which these (and a few other) aspects of the film stuck with me is matched by how greatly so many others were simply forgotten not even twenty-four hours later. I just don't feel like I care as much as I was supposed to (maybe because, like you, Bill, I can only take too much of the criminal-as-folk-hero element, which, even if it wasn't front-and-center, "Bonnie and Clyde" style, was absolutely integral to the film's image of Dillinger).

Oh, and Christian Bale needs to take a break from playing the stoic, righteous man. He did it well in "The New World" and most of "Batman Begins," but besides that ("Equilibrium," "3:10 to Yuma," "The Dark Knight") he just looks like he's on autopilot.

Joel

Dillinger was certainly perceived as a hero, which in itself is pretty interesting (regardless of the fact that he was a bank robber and a murderer). I really liked the last twenty or so minutes of The Assassination of Jesse James, because it dealt with this criminal-to-folk-hero mythos really well; as did the last portion of McCarthy's The Crossing. But I guess there is a difference between showing why someone is treated as a folk hero, and actually doing the heroizing yourself. As Glenn said, Mann likes this bullshit "romantic/existentialist tough-guy ethos" that no one since Hemmingway has really done well. Then why do I want to be at the first showing on opening day?

bill

"The Assassination of Jesse James..." is a brilliant film, and that last twenty minutes was the clincher. Really beautiful stuff (Ron Hansen's book is damn good, too, by the way).

I'm getting really worried about this film now, although I'll still see it tomorrow. I mean, I can't stand "Bonnie and Clyde" for this very reason. Those two were even worse than Dillinger, and they have a classic American film that glamorizes them. If Penn, Newman and Benton didn't mean for them to be the literal Bonnie and Clyde, which I believe at least one of them has claimed, then change the fucking names. Make it about a couple who didn't leave a trail of corpses behind them.

Altman did it right in "Thieves Like Us".

Sam A

"Miami Vice" with the sound on: 1 star. With the sound off: 5 stars.

Kevin J. Olson

I'm a Mann acolyte, too, just like Tony. My reactions to the film mirror a lot of his own.

Bill: There certainly are SOME elements of Dillinger as folk hero, but they hardly trump Mann's overall vision of the man which is an unlikeable guy who robs banks. Depp portrays Dillinger as a brusque man who always expects to get what he wants, and even though there are slivers of humanity in there, and moments of wry himor, the film hardly paints him in the light of say the gangsters in the first half of Scorsese's Goodfellas.

I thought the film was wonderful...again though, I admit to being a Mann apologist. My jumbled thoughts on the film, which I jotted down right after I watched the movie, are here: http://kolson-kevinsblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/public-enemies-take-one.html

bill

Kevin - That's good news. I don't mind Dillinger being portrayed with humanity, because he was human. It's the hero worship and glamorizing I can't stand.

And I love Mann, too, so I'm still excited. Wary, but excited. I'll check out your review, too.

YND

I'm still waiting for COLLATERAL to be recognized as possibly the most interesting thing to come out of the Hollywood machine in the past 10 years. It covers the big budget genre bases impeccably, but has so much more on its mind and in its eye... even if just for its stunningly beautiful portrait of a city by night, it's remarkable stuff.

Where HEAT loses a little steam every time I watch it (due mostly to the by-the-numbers psychoanalyzing that characterizes most of its relationships), COLLATERAL is one I keep going back to again and again.

J.D.

"The only true bad guy in the film IMHO is J. Edgar Hoover."

What about Baby Face Nelson? The guy is portrayed as a stone cold psycho and Stephen Graham certainly looks like he's having a blast playing this guy.

I really enjoyed this film a lot and think that it will deepen upon subsequent viewings. I also like how, towards the end, they portrayed Dillinger as a man out of time... like how that mob guy told about how they make the same amount of money in one day through illegal gambling that Dillinger made knocking over one bank and without the physical risk.

bill

JD, is Nelson a big part of the film? I assume they include the shootout where he was finally killed? In reality, he WAS a stone cold psycho, and the real story of that shootout is pretty amazing. And horrible, too, of course. This probably sounds cold, but Mann could do amazing things with that.

Pip

Mann has no sense of humor. None. This is his biggest problem. I can only spend so much time in the company of "tough men" and their sexy, deferrential women. I find his movies suffocating. Watching Miami Vice was like hanging around with a Gigolo who keeps a copy of Moby-Dick in his back pocket as a prop.

G.

big prop

Pip

Not if it's abridged.

Griff

Glenn, since Mann's use of HD photography seems so integral to his work of late, and as the film transfer I saw of MIAMI VICE theatrically seemed inadequate to the task of properly presenting his vision (the DVD was a great improvement), do you know whether PUBLIC ENEMIES being shown digitally anywhere in Manhattan? Lately, print ads make it difficult to tell what given format a film might be being shown in.

Allen

What Pip said. Mann's lack of humor or at least irony borders on unintentional comedy, especially in silly moments like the coyote sneaking past Cruise in COLLATERAL while some bad 90's man-alone-rock blares out.

To make a MIAMI VICE movie and expect us to take these 80's machismoisms seriously is silly. The fact that a humorless dork like Jeffrey Wells projects himself into Mann's tough-guy world is more revealing of people's need to find depth in his shaky ouvre.

Of course, I'm biased. I've never liked any of his films.

bill

Why does irony have to be a feature of EVERYTHING these days?

don r. lewis

I'm with Pip and I'll take it further...Mann has no sense of character or humanity and "Public Enemies" solidified that for me. I feel like people see what the *want* to see in Mann's work. They *want* to place him on a pedestal when in reality, he's never brought a character to the screen that you can genuinely care about.

Granted, I too have not seen "Ali" but aside from "Mahnunter" and "Collateral," Mann leaves me cold. Ebert and to some extent Dargis go on and on about the stoic, macho images Mann creates when I feel in truth, actors and characters are just unfortunate moving parts in Mann's compositions. The raves of the quiet/heroic/demonic (Dargis sued that and I was like "huh?") portrayal of Depp's Dillinger are again, people projecting what they WANT the role to be when the truth is, it's Depp doing a low-key Elvis impression.

I feel like I'm being harsher that I'd like on "Public Enemies" as I didn't hate it, I was just so-so on it. But man, Mann....I don't get his stuff. I also think Mann is deeply, DEEPLY appropriating semiotics in his work in terms of focusing on what is being said, to who, by who and in what way. I caught onto this in "Miami Vice" when I realized 3/4 of the film is info being relayed via cell phone and again yesterday in "Public Enemies" when much of the film is very direct, curt language telling people what they need, who they are, where to go. I need to sit down and brush up on the theories of semiotics in film, but I think there's something there.

In the meantime, I felt "Public Enemies" was a just o.k. movie that managed to make the kiss kiss, bang bang of gangster life kinda dull and lifeless. Oh, and Bale was just.....wooden.

Account Deleted

I can't wait to see this, i'm something of a major Mann follower. I rewatched Miami Vice and it's a wonderful film, sure it has a few silly lines here and there but it's a visual and aural feast. Hell, I even love 'The Keep', but that's mainly due to John Box's production design, Alex Thompson's cinematography and Tangerine Dream's beautiful score. One of my all-time favourite movie scenes is when Scott Glenn receives the summons to the keep and takes the boat from Piraeus to Romania, the Dream score here is a mesmerising piece of music, especially as the boat drifts into the rising of the sun.

The Last of the Mohicans is another particular favourite. But i'll stop here!

Ryland Walker Knight

I'm a fan, and I'm glad you gave it a fair shake, GK. I don't know if I'm quite as over the moon as a lot of my cohorts (in absentia) but I do know it's one of the most interesting, dynamic American movies I've seen in a while. And it's sad. Cotillard's rah-rah "punchline" is just sad, not heroic or profound. I was happy the crowd I saw the flick with the second time didn't clap like the first crowd. I think this second crowd understood just how bleak a world this was/is. But I'll have more to say in that other space we sometimes haunt soon enough...

Pip

Bill, I think what Allen is trying to say is that there is no self-awareness in Mann's work. People who take everything they say at face value are boors. Sometimes you need to listen to yourself and reflect and then, maybe, comment on what it is that you just said, maybe even contradict yourself. Mann does this...never. It's not a color that he is missing from his palette, it's the base. And, hey I'm not advocating that every artist has to dabble in self-reflexivity, because there are plenty that don't and are still viable and relevant, but it's nice if every once in a while an artist acknowledges their own tropes and themes. That's how you create depth. But Mann has never been interested in depth, so I guess I'm wanting him to do something he isn't capable of doing.

And Don R. Lewis articulated something about Depp's performance that has been sitting in the back of my throat. I know it's supposed to be common sense that Depp is one of our finest actors, but I don't have any common sense. I think he's devolved into a kind of smirky twit. Someone should create a drinking game where you have to pound a shot of hooch everytime Depp smirks in PE. Had Don not pointed out that he is just doing a low-energy Elvis impersonation, I would've sworn that he was doing Bruce Willis.

Mann is a technical master, I guess, but all of his movies can be reduced to this: OBSESSED MEN DOING WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO AND THERE'S NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COPS AND ROBBERS. It's just all way to macho, and it's starting to slide into camp, I think.

Michael Adams

According to print ads, PE is digital at Clearview Chelsea.

Wolf189

I would like to get the chance to shake Michael Mann's hand for making such great films as The Last of the Mohicans (1992) , Heat (1995) , and parts of The Insider (1999) and Collateral (2004) .... and after telling how wonderful he has been and how lucky we are to have him in today's cinema, quickly kick him hard in the nuts for Public Enemies (2009) and try to get away... that is a joke of course.

Public enemies has so much going for it...great actors, a very interesting story, great art direction and customs and supposedly a great director...but the great director woke up one day and decided to shoot all these good acting and period outfits/sets/story with HD camera , on hand with an editing similar to Blair witch project at times, without much effort into lighting ....full of unnecessary close ups and a chewed up story line...and yet drag it for 2 hours and 23 minutes or so.

He...Michael Mann, single handedly has ruined one of the potentially best films that we could've seen in last few years....I am really upset...as you can tell.

Here is the thing...if somebody else made it probably I wouldn't have cared...but he is an amazing film maker...so no matter what, when you go in the theater, you go with certain expectations.

Why the hell such bad editing? why such ugly reality T.V. quality cinematography? why so much on hand camera movement even when two people are sitting across a table and talking? some of the best moments of this film is simply ruined because of lack of proper lighting...because well HD can shoot everywhere in any lighting....so let's abuse it. I do not find any merit regarding the documentary effect of creating such aesthetics. The plot and situations are not clever enough to play that angle.(a balance between documentary and a story being acted)

...and so many weird angles for camera...many many uninspired framings...while the camera is picking from behind a table or through bushes...are we telling how aliens saw the history of gangsters in 1930's? why these point of viewes? oh yeah...we are everybody so we see every situation from various points of views...it's just too messy in my opinion.

....and what the hell going on with the sound engineers? I mean $100-$150 million dollar movie and the sound is as weak as many student films...room full of people and barely any back ground sound...these are such weird amateurish flaws...let's try to read an artistic merit in that too...yes he was trying to separate us of what was happening in the rest of room...so we could only hear essential noises until the blasting moments of machine guns...that's a joke.

Everybody looks like playing dress ups since with HD we can see that everything is so new and fresh pretending to be from a different era...including make up and fake mustaches...no lighting for creating the right atmosphere and ambient...

I am very disappointed...at least if the editing was not too fast when it didn't need to be you could appreciate some of the acting moments...but no...let's go all the way like "shield" (t.v. series)...plus how can we read body languages while all we see is the pores of the actors faces...yes they were acting with their eyebrows and lashes...and the cheesy lines.

I am going to stop now...

I wouldn't buy this film....in my head Michael Mann owes me two films to get his respect back...one for this and one for Miami vice...

Maybe it's me...maybe it's not...you be the judge for yourself...but I have made my judgement (short version) above...

JF

Wolf189: "I am going to stop now..."

Yeah, that's probably a good idea.

I guess I'm a Mann fan, if not an especially frothing one. There are still a few films of his I need to see, Public Enemies included, and a few more that I need to rewatch before I can even articulate what exactly I think about them. What I can say is that I've seen Collateral and Miami Vice once apiece, and sequences and images from them have wormed their way into my mind and maybe even subtly shaped the way I absorb movies.

J.D.

"They *want* to place him on a pedestal when in reality, he's never brought a character to the screen that you can genuinely care about."

I disagree. I found Jeffrey Wigand to be very sympathetic in THE INSIDER. You really feel for this guy who tries to do the right thing and is left hung out to dry by CBS and as a result he loses his family. And Mann does a really good job of showing the emotional toll the events in the film take on, climaxing rather incredibly in the scene where he locks himself in his hotel room and fantasizes about his children...

Allen

How can you not be ironic about a 100 million dollar version of a TV show that had a guy living with an alligator on a boat? Even the MIAMI VICE series had more humor...I just think there's excessive projection with Mann's work.

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