The Three Big Myths About Public Enemies: Don’t Believe Everything You Read!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is suffocated by historical accuracies, coming as it does from such a notoriously detail-oriented director. Not so! Mr. Mann’s script, co-written by Southland’s Ann Biderman and Ronan Bennett, is chock-a-block with dramatic license. For example: F.B.I. agent Melvin Purvis (a decidedly underused Christian Bale) did not account for the killing of every major bank robber in the 1930s, as the movie seems to purport. Not that we mind entirely—Public Enemies isn’t a History Channel special on John Dillinger after all—we just found it … interesting. Maybe the stories about Mr. Mann being obsessed with minutia are more of a legend than first thought. Either way, it’s not the only myth about Public Enemies being bandied about in the media. Here are some more! (Naturally, spoilers!)

Myth #1: Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard have great chemistry.

This is to take nothing away from either of their performances—though, for the record, Ms. Cotillard is infinitely better than Mr. Depp, who ratchets his intensity just above drowsy—but all that stuff you’ve read about flying sparks and smoldering glances in Public Enemies is hogwash. Mr. Depp’s John Dillinger and Ms. Cotillard’s Billie Frechette couldn’t seem to care less about each other. Here’s a handy rule: When a movie constantly has to tell the audience how much one character loves another, over and over again, via the supporting players, there is something seriously wrong. Maybe with a better script this relationship would have been believable, but, as it stands, Sam and Mikaela in Transformers have a more developed pairing. This is not a good thing.

Myth #2: Digital photography makes a huge difference.

We don’t pretend to be experts in digital filmmaking, but what’s the big deal about its use in Public Enemies? For starters, Mr. Mann has done this before, and done this better in both Miami Vice and Collateral. Second, the digital technology produced a weird final image—everything was more muted, yet crisper at the same time. Meh. We’ve seen reviews say the gymnastics allow viewers to peer into Johnny Depp’s soul. All we saw was the glue affixing his fake mustache to his upper lip.

Myth #3: If you don’t like Public Enemies, you’re an idiot.

A popular meme about Public Enemies is that it won’t have long-term success at the box office because regular moviegoers won’t embrace what is essentially an “art film.” (Noted Internet hysteric Jeffrey Wells dedicated an entire blogpost to this stipulation last week.) Apparently you need to be a Rhodes Scholar to even “like” Public Enemies—never mind that the middle of the film features a 20-minute gun fight that was both louder and more violent than anything in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (seriously, too loud!); or that Ms. Cotillard gets  beaten and smashed in the head by brutal cops . Regular moviegoers aren’t intelligent enough to understand depth like that! If Public Enemies stumbles at the box office in the next couple of weeks, it’ll be because you commoners just don’t get real filmmaking! Yeah, right. Wake us when the elitism is over.

The Three Big Myths About Public Enemies: Don’t Believe Everything You Read!