Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur
Director: Billy Wilder
Running Time: 111 mins
Ace In The Hole is an American film about a brilliant but hot-headed big city journalist who takes up a job at a small newspaper in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and soon finds a small story about a man stuck in a cave which he turns into a frenzied media circus.
A film that ingeniously exposes the levels of cynicism, deception and selfishness present in the world of journalish, Ace In The Hole is a gripping watch throughout. With a magnetic lead performance by Kirk Douglas, a strong screenplay from Billy Wilder and engrossing themes, it’s a brilliant insight into a darker side of humanity in a seemingly everyday context.
There’s a lot to talk about with Ace In The Hole, but the place to start has to be Kirk Douglas. His performance is absolutely fantastic, as he embodies everything about the frustrated, hot-headed man who has an enormous talent for finding a story and making it big news.
In that, his character is just as irresistible as he is flawed. On the one hand, his charisma and talent for storytelling makes him the talk of the town, and there are times when you too fall under his spell. Yet with selfish, almost inhumane intentions at the front of his mind, as well as hulking, alcoholic behaviour, he’s a loathsome lead that’s by all intents and purposes the film’s main antagonist.
And it’s Kirk Douglas’ performance that brilliantly marries that blend of irresistibility and detestability, playing into the film’s central themes of the morally corrupt yet unstoppable world of journalism.
Now, Ace In The Hole isn’t an attack on all journalists and journalism as a whole, but it does demonstrate where the media can go too far, and how easily it can happen.
From a seemingly innocent and easily-resolvable situation to get a man trapped not too far inside a cave, the ensuing media circus that attracts the attention of the whole world turns it into a frenzied mania that makes the central rescue effort all the more difficult.
The presence of media, tourists and spectators who surround the cave draws in people looking to make a quick buck, with secondary attractions popping up across the neighbouring desert, while the originally free admission to the cave continues to rise through the film in a cleverly tongue-in-cheek series of small details from director Billy Wilder.
And with backhand dealings between Kirk Douglas’ character and the local officials, other journalists and more, the film continues to hammer home the idea of the often unlimited power of the media to whip up a frenzy, often to the detriment of the very people they claim to be supporting.
Ace In The Hole is a brilliant satire that gets to the crux of a theme that’s still enormously relevant today. At times, it’s a dark, dark comedy that’s comparable to the likes of La Dolce Vita in its portrayal of morally bankrupt and cynical media, only that Ace In The Hole pushes that theme harder and harder, almost to breaking point.
Overall, I was really impressed by Ace In The Hole. With ingenious satire that hits home on gripping themes fantastically throughout, as well as a magnetic lead performance from Kirk Douglas and excellent direction and writing from Billy Wilder, it’s absolutely worth the watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6.