Paramount Pictures | Release Date: September 4, 2002
7.5
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SpangleMar 6, 2017
Ace in the Hole has to be one of the most cynical films of all-time. This film noir from director Billy Wilder tells the tale of a former big shot reporter, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), heading to Albuquerque for one last chance in theAce in the Hole has to be one of the most cynical films of all-time. This film noir from director Billy Wilder tells the tale of a former big shot reporter, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), heading to Albuquerque for one last chance in the journalism game. While there, he stumbles on a man trapped in a cave that the local natives believe to contain "bad spirits". Jackpot. Milking the story for all it is worth, people come from miles to see the mountain, the sheriff runs a re-election campaign, and the victim's wife starts racking up cash through their family store (the only place in town). Chuck, meanwhile, milks the human interest of the story with a view towards a gig in a big city. One problem though: they can get him out of the mountain within hours.

Having been fired from every big city job he had, Chuck Tatum knows this is his chance and dammit if he is going to let it slip through his fingers. Doing whatever he can to keep Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) trapped under the rubble, he and every character acts out of pure self-interest. Wilder is known for his cynicism, but this one is other worldly. The scene of the incident is turned into a circus with people from miles away driving over and pitching tents. Leo's wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling) starts making people pay to get in, on top of serving them food and drinks in their restaurant. The sheriff (Ray Teal) paints "Re-elect Sheriff Kretzer" on the mountain. There are songs written about rescuing Leo and the news media across the country is willing to pay big bucks to Chuck, who is the man with exclusive access to Leo and the family, having wooed them to his cause before anybody else showed up. Manipulating the situation to prolong Leo's stay in order to soak in the attention and drive up demand for the human interest story, things take a turn for the worse when Leo has pneumonia and is near death. Considering how it would ruin his story and deprive the nation of a happy ending, something must be done or else Chuck will be faced with his guilt and regret.

Initially a critical and commercial failure, Ace in the Hole was clearly ahead of its time. In exploring the involvement of the media in the news and the self-interest of everybody in telling a story, even the reading public, the film is a damning look at America. Everybody is selfish and forgets that a man is stuck in the mountain, but an old Indian curse keeping him there is far more compelling than the fact that a good man will die just because of their indifference. Had anybody cared to, he could have been rescued quite quickly, but they milk his suffering for their own satisfaction. In a day and age where the 24/7 news media uses human interest as a hook to reel in viewers, Ace in the Hole would be a great companion piece to news coverage of reporters running up to the families of children murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting or the filmography of Peter Berg, namely Patriots Day. Today, there is money to be had and ratings to be gained from suffering. Just as with Chuck denying he wants Leo's suffering to continue only to then take steps to see it continue, the media wants shootings to stop nowadays, but man are those ratings ever nice. The public plays right into their cards too as we all gather around and watch with bated breathe to hear how everything turns out. While this undeniably happened in 1951 as well, not even Billy Wilder could have anticipated the way it would be nowadays. In essence, the film is an unseen warning for the future about what tragedy could be turned into and the disconnection people feel from others in tragic situations (i.e. the whole conversation regarding one person being more tragic than 84 or 284).

Compelling, cynical, and terrifically acted, Ace in the Hole's dramatic ending being a slight rehash of its opening sequence is a stroke of genius. Kirk Douglas nails the role from beginning to end, somehow convincing people he is not nearly as bad of a person as he really is beneath the surface. A film that was far ahead of its time, Ace in the Hole is Wilder at his most cynical, showing how tragedy is profitable for those willing to trudge through the mud to profit of it. But, once the tragedy ends, everybody rushes home and forgets, symbolized by Leo's wife still leaving him. Things must go and life trudges ahead, leaving the tragedy that swept the nation in the dust as people move on to the next tragedy.
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9
andrjetJul 5, 2015
This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. The Bogus Truths of a Dazzling Show

Society turned into a show has Kirk Douglas’ penetrating lineaments: a society ready to do everything just to gain that famous Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. A society become paradigm of a world gazing at success’ mirror. Billy Wilder was so predictive as he didn’t run into critics favors because of his brazen exhibition of a herald falsification realm: that is journalism.

It’s journalist Charles Tatum’s arrogant face that fills up black-and-white scenes of this sublime tableau Billy Wilder sketched out in 1951. He puts in the foreground the black soul of a reporter dumped from all the American biggest newspapers, expelled for his deviances (he’s a conman, a drinker, and a playboy), and forced to beg for a job in a suburban newspaper in Albuquerque.

A proud man who has known footlights and now doesn’t accept to remain in the backstage; a man longing for a payback that takes on revenge’s violent connotations and it makes Wilder’s Chuck Tatum one of the meanest characters of the cinema history: an overbearing, selfish, ruthless man. He is a journalist who knows how to profit by chance – e.g. Indians’ graves looter Leo Mimosa trapped inside the cave – and how to turn it into his personal opportunity to come back in the Press circle, under spotlights of the whole world.

As a handy poker player, Tatum pulls out the ace in the hole: the case becomes a story, the story becomes a scoop, the scoop becomes a hit. And he is the factotum of the game, the fire-eater calling the shots of the show he sets up with an arriviste sheriff and a dissatisfied woman (Leo’s wife) in the arid dusty Escudero. So, where there was nothing but a wretched lodging in the center of nothing now there is a crowded carnival, and from every quarter it comes people to attend Leo Mimosa’s rescue; Tatum surreptitiously protracts this intervention in order to boost a story on which he had imprinted his brand name.

Hugo Friedhofer’s grave soundtrack sharpens the echo of overwhelming oppression used upon everybody by the reporter till to crush Leo’s wife (Jan Starling) not to run away and to trap her in his bogus gimmick (but she will injure him not far from the tragic epilogue). In fact, his plan screws up because Leo (Richard Benedict) starts suffering from pneumonia under the landslide. The hole puncher try to get to him while time flies out (and his life does the same). The man who had to be saved is dead: “Leo Mimosa is dead”, Chuck Tatum shouts out from the top of the mountain: he cries out to the public gathered down in the dusty plains and to the journalists arrived from all over the Nation to take notes on the story. And he also makes the cry roaring inside himself as though he can atone for his petty plan.

But it’s too late: tragedy’s completed. And Tatum’s alcohol-deformed face fills up the last shot: he lies down on the Albuquerque newspaper’s newsroom pavement becoming the dark side of the show. He stands for the emotional desert of a show created at all costs. He stands for a society dazzled by evanescent things, a society eager to chase the twinkling excess and unable to recognize the goodness of truth.
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CalibMcBoltsMay 30, 2016
Billy Wilder dark and sometimes disturbing movie ''Ace in the Hole'' is yet another apex in Wilder's long and impressive filmography. With this movie there really is nothing to complain, all of the performances are great, the screenwritingBilly Wilder dark and sometimes disturbing movie ''Ace in the Hole'' is yet another apex in Wilder's long and impressive filmography. With this movie there really is nothing to complain, all of the performances are great, the screenwriting is, as always, spot-on, original and attention-grabbing. Whilst sometimes wildly disturbing because each and every character in this film is bad, and has done, or will do something bad throughout the film, even the poor guy trapped by the cave-in is bad because he was there to find ancient Indian pots and stuff, to sell them for a hefty amount of money.

''Ace in the Hole'' is dark, entertaining, enthralling, interesting and original and yet another masterpiece by one of the greatest directors who ever lived.
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