Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole ★★★★

In my review for Wilder's The Apartment I talked about how he brought the best out of Jack Lemmon through great blocking, and just constantly having him move around or do something with his hands since Lemmon was simply so interesting to watch. Wilder clearly knows how to direct actors, as he brings out an equally marvellous performance here from Kirk Douglas. Not through great blocking this time though, but by simply letting him talk until his throat runs dry. Obviously helped by a great script, Wilder lets shots run long so we can witness Douglas completely own a role most actors would kill to have. Within the first scene we know exactly what kind of charismatic person he is, how he can take control of a room and convince anyone of anything. Words explode off his tongue and pierce the air one moment, the next he's delicately whispering in the ear of a single soul. It's amazing to watch, and to see Chuck develop from brash yet determined writer to sleazy control freak is a mesmerising experience. Douglas is so good he almost convinced me onto his side a couple of times. Chuck is brilliant at feigning compassion and using that trust to get what he wants. He's the first into the hole not because he wants to help the man, but because he wants to get the story. He makes friends with trapped Leo not to calm his worries, but to help gain exclusive access to the cave. He gets on the side of the corrupt sheriff, finagles his way back to a major newspaper, slaps around Leo's wife and tells her not to wipe her tears away because "that's how she's supposed to look" and even gets the workforce to drill from the top of the cave instead of the easier, quicker way because he wants Leo trapped longer in the hope of more headlines - "Good news is no news." Truly a despicable slimeball yet it's easy to believe his charm could work thanks to Douglas completely owning the role.

The film is also an excellent satire on the media and the circus that revolves around major stories. In fact towards the end a literal circus tent is deconstructed in case anyone missed the point. Chuck isn't the only one involved in this story that's only looking out for himself, practically everyone is. Even Leo's wife attempts to start an affair and never once looks worried about her husband, despite their fifth wedding anniversary on the horizon. Every writer only cares about getting an exclusive, and even the hordes of onlookers that turn up to the cave don't seem to care about Leo - they're just here for something to do in a town where nothing interesting ever happens. A couple being interviewed on the radio fail to mention anything about the incident itself, instead insisting that they were the first to know about it before promoting their insurance business. And of course, once the ordeal is over, everyone scatters abruptly. One of the final shots is Chuck looking out to the open space surrounding the cave which was once filled with spectators, but is now barren with the shattered remnants of a banner blowing in the wind.

Chuck proves in the end just how desperate he is for a headline, ironically ending up in the place he was trying to use as a stepping stone onto bigger things. Fantastic character development, great directing and biting satire. My third Wilder film, and it's another great one.

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