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Joe Carnahan on Smokin' Aces

Published January 24, 2007 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures.
Smokin' Aces Smokin' Aces
Joe Carnahan survived the Hollywood turnaround for five years since his debut film, Narc, garnered critical acclaim. His new film, Smokin' Aces may be a more personal story, as he set about destroying one of his childhood hangouts.

Interview: Joe Carnahan on Smokin' Aces


"I love Tahoe, but when someone asks me, like, describe Tahoe, I say, 'Well, you know, the south shore there it’s like if the gaming industry took a dump in god’s country, that’s that section of Tahoe!'" said Carnahan. "It is a unbelievably, majestically, beautiful piece of real estate. And against it you have this array of kind of gawdy glass towers and high rises and stuff. But I thought it hadn’t been filmed in a way that I think is [representative]."

The film centers on Buddy "Aces" Israel, a casino magician/mob informant who is the target of several converging hits. The killers tear up a Lake Tahoe hotel to get to him.

"For being a place that’s so you know, exquisitely beautiful, it’s like, considered the last stop in an entertainer’s career. Like if you wind up in Tahoe, man, it’s over. That means Reno wouldn’t have you, and that’s a bad place to be. So it was really, just that. David Mamet made a film years ago called Things Change, with Don Ameche and Joe Mantegna and I always loved that they shot in Tahoe and they called it The Galaxy. And I wanted to call The Nomad the Galaxy, so it was a little nod to him. And then The Deep End, which, you look at that, and I consciously kind of tried to avoid the beauty necessarily of Tahoe and more the kind of just this great grime. Under this kind of canopy of conifers and beautiful deep blue lake, is this kind of grime and grit that I thought was interesting."



As the hotel explodes in gunfights, Carnahan differentiated his gun violence from other crime filmmakers by focusing on the unique characters of each hitman. "The characters kind of influence the way that the film was shot and the way you depict the violence. I think that it has been done so much, so I think [about] doing it in a way that was appropriate for each section. Listen, to me it’s like having a thesis statement, you know. And I don’t pretend, I can be a pretty dim bulb, man. I mean, I’m not the smartest person walking the earth. So if I don’t have a clear kind of mandate, or I don’t create something for myself to let me kind of guide the film by, then it gets very confusing and muddled. So when I went out I thought, well, you know, for Alicia and Taraji, that is a very real situation as it is for Ryan. So you know, when that guy gets hit with that 50 caliber, that’s essentially what’s going to happen. I mean, you actually fly apart. But I wanted it to be really raw and nasty and have the sense of just absolute chaos, kind of exploding. And in the same way that there’s a suddenness and a very violent, kind of vicious thing between Ray [Liotta] and Nestor Carbonell in the elevator. Then you get the Tremor Brothers and that kind of spectacle in the hallway with them and the security guys."

For a guy who seems to know his violence, Carnahan insists it's not biographical. "I’ve been lucky in my live that I haven’t really been involved in a tremendous amount of violence. I mean, I can count the fistfights I’ve been in on one hand. So I’ll never pretend I’m like some kind of hardass that went into bars looking for fights. There’s been two of them that have been pretty extreme. Violence for me has this suddenness, and this immediacy, and then it’s gone. Very rarely is it something you linger on. So I just wanted the depiction of it to be that way. And in a lot of ways it’s not dissimilar from the stuff in Narc, this very sudden kind of eruptions of that. And this is the first time I think I’ve actually consciously stylized a gunfight, or gun, which I normally wouldn’t do because I just think there’s part of it that can border on irresponsibility, because we do, we have such a love affair with firearms and I think it can lead to bad things if it’s done with this overly kind of glamorous [style]. But you know, you say that and you’re immediately a hypocrite. Well, I’m fully aware of that, so that’s a hell of a way to end a question. I’m a hypocrite. Next question!"

Smokin' Aces opens this Friday, January 26th.

For the trailers, posters, clips, full synopsis and more movie info, go to the Smokin' Aces Movie Page.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Universal Pictures.
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