Found: College movie review from Tribune editor-taught journalism class, 2007
Cinematic Cigarette in the American Ashtray
By Margarita Korol
March 12, 2007
The doors of a mirrored elevator slide open to reveal a close up shot of stunning Alicia Keys with sleek boots up to her thighs and bangs down to her brows. Any other night the splendor that is Keys descends to stroke the ivories and blacks of a piano with a sugary disposition; but tonight, she is Georgia Sykes: professional lipstick-red assassin disguised as prostitute on a mission to kill Buddy Israel. This is “Smokin’ Aces,” and it does not come in pink.
Brigades of assassins like sexy empowered black women, neo-Nazi hicks, and ex-cops race to slaughter and tear the heart from Buddy “Aces” Israel played by Jeremy Piven, an ex-Vegas magician with dirt on the elite Italian American mob while he lays low, hopped-up, in Reno. Meanwhile, the FBI unit worked by Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta and led by Andy Garcia who, with an unbefitting Southern drawl reminiscent of Dubya, commands war on the mob world by saving Israel. Through the scopes of loyalty and vengeance, Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces” approaches delicate subjects like the Middle East crisis, attention deficit children on Ritalin and race in America with a hard swinging baseball bat.
Joe Carnahan, Mauro Fiore and Clint Mansell manipulate script direction, cinematography, and score, respectively with a healthy assembly of cast and crew to develop a hybrid-genre cinematic experience in “Aces” as it uses the conventions of noir in chronicling betrayal and corruption and life between good and bad while convoluting into a genus of thriller, comedy, action and drama.
Camera work and editing under Fiore’s direction creates rich yet darkly hued frames, breaking for dramatic heat as in Israel’s most coked up state in the bathroom with skin vividly sallow and eyes almost see through cobalt blue and bloody crimson. It is the collection of this aesthetic, fast framework and Mansell’s exciting score that successfully establish a fresh pulpy flavor like that of an over boozed screwdriver.
Golden Globe nominated Clint Mansell also worked on the scores for “Lord of the Rings” and “Requiem for a Dream,” and “Pi,” and produces for “Aces” a feel that is suspenseful, funky, and provocative. Beyond Mansell’s work, “Aces’” playlist creates an energetic yet nostalgically intoxicated mood reminiscent of the tracks of Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” or the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski,” the latter of which Carnahan claims to have been influenced by through their film, “Raising Arizona.”
Sadistically violent at first and second glance, the film appears over dramatized and under justified for such gratuitous murder. The tiny hands of Keys grasp a pistol masterfully, as the burly ones of nihilists prefer to exterminate with uncontrolled chainsaws while mustachioed à la Adolph by way of Sharpie. Then again, maybe Carnahan is making a point; consider the characters as pawns of an allegory that he denies to be too “far-flung.” Exploring the film’s themes and criticisms sheds light on its parable for the American condition in 2007. For instance, US audience reaction to the film in the tapering box-office sales reflects public opinion. “It was just too violent,” said viewers in leaving theaters. Perhaps the global state of war in 2007 is “just too violent” for the public, too.
“Smokin’ Aces’” can take on the dark role of the cigarette in 2007 America, dubbed wrong and unwanted by the public masses, but craved ever so ardently by individual addicts. And while Schwarzenegger, Bloomberg, and Daley declare a war on terror in banning huffs outside of 15 feet of a bar; Bush, Libby, and Carnahan stake claims on all the Buddy Israels in the world for their personal Manifest Destinies.
Keys as Georgia Sykes and Taraji P. Henson as her partner, Sharice Watters, still glowing in post-“Hustle and Flow”-success, encompass professional killing machines in American Army fatigues. Elsewhere, one of the three neo-Nazi Tremor Brothers named Darwin, soulfully played by Chris Pine, indulges Carnahan’s illusion of a pro-Bush degenerate Southerner (look for a juicy long-needed metaphoric confrontation between this republican and a war veteran amputee, Martin Henderson).
Meanwhile, the ailing, drug-addled, prisoner in his own high rollers suite Buddy Israel embodies the Middle East and comments on the shaping of Western perceptions of it as he asserts to his ever-loyal assistant Ivy, brilliantly played by Chicago rapper Common,
What do you see right now? You see exactly and only what I choose to show you. That is illusion Ivy that is the lie that I tell your eyes. Makin’ the magic happen in the moment, in that split second. I can shape it, I can shift it, I can make it as real as this room. That is why I am valuable here Ivy and that is why you are not. I am sorry, I love you, I never wanted it to be like this, you know that.
The characters of the “Aces” entourage stick because of their humanness: loyalty to projects and people of their own world like partners in crime and love, money, and an old raggedy head of the mafia, Primo Sparazza played by Joseph Ruskin. The movie takes a critical look at just what these allegiances entail in the pain of lost partners, opportunities, and sanity.
Ryan Reynolds thrives outside of his typical Van Wilder-esque party boy role as FBI agent Richard Messner playing hero in a Reno casino. Reynolds’ character flails down the empty elevator shaft of reality as his optimistic devotion to his job and partner are brutally interrogated. Reynolds astoundingly represents a complex character, bringing liberal and FBI into one being. His partner played by Ray Liotta appears in his second Carnahan flick after acting in and producing Narc (2002).
Themes of obsessive loyalty, vengeance, and selfish gain cloaked in serving the greater good in “Aces” are the coordinates for the American warplane on autopilot. The public cringes with one eye open at the shooters, sex, and cigarettes. Perhaps they should open the other eye for another viewing beyond the blood, suggests Carnahan. “Smokin’ Aces” is available on DVD in April, and possibly at The Vic’s Brew and View later this year.
Written and directed by Joe Carnahan
Edited by: Robert Frazen
Photography by: Mauro Fiore
Production designed by: Martin Whist
Music/ score by: Clint Mansell
Produced by: Working Title Films
MPAA rating R
Length of film 108 min