Producer Kevin Misher on Michael Mann's Public Enemies
You've probably heard the title, Public Enemies, or seen the photos of Johnny Depp on set, but I'm guessing that most of you don't know what the story is about or anything about the production. Public Enemies is filmmaker Michael Mann's latest ambitious project, a 1930's era gangster movie based on true events and individuals in history. The film stars Johnny Depp as bank robber John Dillinger and Christian Bale as FBI agent Melvin Purvis and just finished shooting a few weeks back. I came across an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times where journalist Patrick Goldstein caught up with one of the producer's on the project, Kevin Misher. It's an interesting read for those who aren't familiar with Public Enemies yet but are interested in hearing more or want to know more about how Michael Mann works on set.
Let's start with a bit of a background on the story of bank robber John Dillinger. Dillinger primarily robbed banks during the 1930's and became known as the Jackrabbit for his graceful movements during bank heists, such as leaping over the counter and many narrow getaways from police. Some considered him a dangerous criminal, while others idolized him as a present-day Robin Hood. He was pursued by FBI agent Melvin Purvis, a young agent who helped lead America into the "public enemy era," which led to development of the modern and more sophisticated FBI. Dillinger was eventually caught in 1934 when the FBI was tipped off that he would be attending a film at the Biograph Theater in Chicago, where police were waiting outside. A shoot out began and Dillinger was killed before he had the chance to escape.
If you're already concerned that the story sounds too boring and not the least bit exciting, then you're not looking at this close enough. Think Ridley Scott's American Gangster, but set in the 1930's with bank robberies and shoot outs. Producer Kevin Misher puts it all into perspective: "If you're looking for action, I don't think you'll be disappointed. We've got three bank robberies, two prison breaks and who knows how many shootouts." Universal Chairman Marc Shmuger also chimes in: "It really felt like the most exciting thing Michael's done in years. It's a seminal gangster saga, but it's also a classic doomed lovers story. They meet on the run and you know that they know that the relationship can't last, which makes the film really heart-wrenching. With that combination, well, let's face it, there's just not that many filmmakers in the world besides Michael could do that."
Director Michael Mann, known for films like Heat, Ali, and Collateral, is a very visceral filmmaker. You can read more about some of his previous stories in the LA Times article, but as for Public Enemies, Misher explains that they shot in the real life locations as much as possible. "If we could find where Dillinger walked, we shot where he walked." That kind of mentality will most certainly shine through in the quality of the film. "We shot at the Biograph Theater on the very street where Dillinger was killed, so that scene was exactly where the real events happened. All we did was change the facades of the buildings and reverted them back to period. We also shot at the Little Bohemia lodge up in northern Wisconsin, which is the scene of a famous gunfight between the FBI and Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson."
Although we won't be seeing Public Enemies until July of next year, I'm already looking forward to it. In fact, I'm expecting it to be one of next summer's big hits. I think the combination of Michael Mann with Christian Bale and Johnny Depp can only lead to great things. And the story for this whole movie is incredibly thrilling, reminding me quite a bit of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables (which took place one decade before Public Enemies). Although Michael Mann screwed up most recently with Miami Vice, his past work, including Collateral (my personal favorite), has all been fantastic. And I expect him to yet again shine with Public Enemies. We've still got a year left to go, but it might be worth it to keep Public Enemies on your mind anyway as we progress through the next 12 months of movies.