Chicago – and Chicagoans – has always had a tough time dealing with its violent, mobster-speckled past. On the one hand it’s reality. It’s also good for tourism since lots of people want to come see the streets and locations where Al Capone and his cronies traded in booze and violence for so many years. On the other hand Chicago has done a lot of other things over the years and many people – especially the current mayor – are eager to put that sort of perception of the city behind us as they seek to define its future.
There’s no denying, though, that it’s impossible to read a history of 20th century Chicago that doesn’t include a chronicle of much of that past. Chicago was in-arguably host to some of the biggest events in the history of crime in that period.
Some of that included the career of John Dillinger. That career is now being mined as the basis for Public Enemies, the new film from director Michael Mann. In the film JohnnyDepp plays Dillinger and Christian Bale one of the FBI agents tasked with bringing him to justice. The film follows Dillinger as he engages in his much-publicized wave of bank robberies as he eludes the FBI, even as that agency looks to make that pursuit – and hopefully his eventual capture – the case that makes its reputation. It all ends, getting back to the Chicago connection, outside theBiograph Theater on Chicago’s near-north side.
Three character posters were the first components of the print campaign that were released. Depp got one, Bale got one and Marion Cotillard, who plays Dillinger’s girlfriend in the film, got one. Each one was placed in a setting that was appropriate for their character, withDepp’s Dillinger standing on the side of a car with a machine gun at the ready, Bale’s Purvis hiding behind a tree as if he’s waiting for his opportunity to catch the bad guy and Cotillard’s character dressed for the night out and standing on a city street. They’re all very stylized and very cool looking and fit the atmospheric look the movie’s campaign is trying to create very well.
The theatrical poster puts the focus solely on Depp as he stands, machine gun in hand, looking north on LaSalle Street in Chicago – the same location of the last shot in The Untouchables – and the Chicago Board of Trade building behind him. It’s a shot that’s more or less synonymous, by virtue of that placement in The Untouchables, with Chicago and is used as shorthand not only for the geographic setting but its time as well. It works at what it’s trying to accomplish, which is to set the scene in that way and sellDepp as the main attraction for the movie.
The fact that Bale didn’t get more prominent placement in the poster component of the campaign surprised me and a few other people. But, as one film marketing industry watcher says, Bale still doesn’t have the audience recognition factor that makes him, as opposed to the roles he plays, a big draw factor, at least not a big enough one to pushDepp off the front burner.
It’s not just that they’re both visually fantastic, it’s that they both do a great job of creating the sense that they walk the line between showing some awesome scenes andcinematography without spoiling it or making the viewer think they’ve seen all the best bits. Both build the story and the characters in slow and steady ways and build to an eventual exciting climax.
While each features a slightly different take on things – one of them doesn’t show Depp in close-up until over 30 seconds in – they do both hit on the common themes of this being a manhunt that the FBI is mounting on Dillinger and that Dillinger is enjoying his role as a celebrity, an anti-hero for the working man during the early years of the Depression.
They also both make it clear to the audience that this is a stylishly told story that features compelling and deep characters and some darn fine acting.
I’m actually a bit surprised they don’t play up the violence in the film more. I’m not sure how much of that is contained in the actual film but this is summer action movie season after all and accentuating that violence might have been seen as a safe marketing play by the studio and its partners. I’m not complaining – I think they’re great – I’m just saying I’m surprised they didn’t reach for the lowest common denominator.
Considering the local connection it’s not surprising that the Biograph would have the trailer playing on a screen in the lobby on a continuous loop.
The official website opens by playing the second (I think it’s the second, I don’t remember what order they were released in) trailer, which you can close to start diving into the site. You can continue down that road by clicking “Enter the Site.”
There are a few options right off the bat on the site, which takes forever to load.
“Explore the Crime Wave of John Dillinger” presents a timeline of the real Dillinger’s activities, from his first jail break through his being gunned down outside theBiograph . I love features like this on sites for movies that are based on historic events as they provide a resource for people who want more than just a movie to get some background on the subjects and people involved.
Along those same lines is “Gangsters and G-Men” which gives you some historic biographic information on the people being portrayed. Each one is presented along with the face of the actor doing the portraying, helping you put a face with the name when you eventually see the movie.
In the final of these featured spots the spotlight is turned directly on director Mann, with a Biography, Images and Insight into the themes he explores in his movies and how this plays into those. I don’t see this kind of thing on many movie sites, where an A-List director gets broken out in this fashion, but Mann is certainly among those few that deserve such treatment.
Getting into the site’s main content, the menu is actually arranged like a map of the Midwest, with the different areas represented by points corresponding to the areas Dillinger struck in his career.
First up is “Downloads” where you’ll find three Desktop Wallpapers and 11 Buddy Icons you can grab to make yourself up in the style of the movie.
There are 18 stills from the movie under the “Gallery.”
I love the “Videos” section since it contains the Trailer (but just the one, a slight demerit), seven TV spots and seven extended clips from the film. That’s more TV spots than the official site for the Transformers sequel, which had asizably bigger push, contained.
“Notes” has a ton of good information about the creation of the movie and the people involved in said creation. It’s well-written and has quotes from the real people depicted and it’s a good read. “Filmmakers” and “Cast” both give you a bit of information on the talent behind the movie and their film histories.
Finally, “Story” dives into just what the movie is all about and the path the characters take.
At the bottom of the page there are the now-usual array of buttons that let you share a link to the site with your friends on Facebook, StumbleUpon and elsewhere.
There was also an online game that Universal ran called BankRaids that used Twitter and Facebook Connect to let people promote just how well they had done in their quest to become a notorious – and successful – bank robber. Seems like a fun game and I like the instant post-to-Twitter/Facebook once you finish your run aspect of it.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The primary component of the advertising campaign was the seven or so TV spots that were created and which aired in the four or five weeks before the movie’s release. These were all pretty good, essentially slimmed-down and rearranged footage from the trailers. The main problem faced by these spots was that they were airing right in the middle of the campaign for Transformers 2 and it’s almost two dozen different commercials so it was a little hard to find some breathing room around them.
There was also some outdoor advertising done and, I think, some online as well, but I didn’t see very much of it and haven’t heard a lot of buzz in that area.
Media and Publicity
As is befitting a movie with a couple of high profile stars and such a big-time director there was a decent amount of publicity around Public Enemies. Interviews with theDepp, Bale and Mann were in steady supply in the weeks leading up to the movie’s release. There was also plenty of local attention given to the film’s shooting while the production was in Chicago, with other Midwest locations that don’t usually host movie shoots focusing in their own way on the fact that there were major stars in town.
Some of that local Chicago coverage
The film got a decent shot in the arm when it was announced it would screen, likely for the first time to a general audience, at the Los Angeles Film Festival in mid to late June.
I’m always amazed when I watch a Michael Mann film at how the director is able to combine slick, amazing visuals and meaty, substantive story-telling.
The campaign for Public Enemies positions the movie along those very same lines. It presents a movie that contains some great performances, really cool visuals and a story that is engaging and interesting, meaning there’s something for everyone. It certainly makes the movie most attractive to those interested in serious movies. It’s probably going to have little overlap with the Transformers 2 crowd that’s more into sweaty Megan Fox and flashyCGI visuals.
The main problem with the campaign has nothing to do with the actual marketing but instead is about the release timing. It’s among the highest-profile releases this week but it’s still coming after those big effing robots and so the campaign has had to run more or less in parallel to that push, meaning it’s been a chore for it to not be drowned out. Hopefully, though, it’s managed to find the audience it needs this weekend.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 7/10/09: Michael Philips says the trailers for Public Enemies don’t give an accurate representation of how the movie looks and feels, largely because of the way director Michael Mann shot the film and his use of high-def digital cameras for that shooting.