Writing and directing the wild action dramedy
In one of the craziest and sickest action movie in years, Joe Carnahan wrote and directed Smokin' Aces. The film is nearly a who's who of modern Hollywood - in all genres; Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Andy Garcia, Peter Berg, and R&B artists Common and Alicia Keys.
Jeremy plays Las Vegas magician, Buddy Israel; he's gotten mixed up with the mob, but hasn't held up his end of the bargain - he's given up evidence to turn them in. Now, the mob wants him to pay. With a $1 million bounty for his heart, seven teams of assassins are after that cash.
Smokin' Aces is full of fast cuts, huge guns, and fast-paced action. While writing the script, Joe saw huge potential that made it easier when he was directing. "Rob Frazen cut Smokin' Aces; he's like a behaviorist, which is what I love, because I'm not. So I knew a lot of sequences were designed - they had to be because we shot that film in forty days. So if you go in there and go, 'Uh, I'm not sure, put a camera up there in the corner,' you're dead. So I had a real strong sense of what I wanted to do, because necessity kind of makes you. I really did approach it with kind of knowing the way I was going to put it together."
The gun violence in this film is insane! Joe put together scenes that will blow your mind - literally. "The characters influence the way the film was shot and the way the violence you depict. I can be a pretty dim bulb, man; I'm not the smartest person walking the earth, so if I don't have a clear mandate, or I don't create something for myself, to let me guide the film, then it gets very confusing and muddled. So when I went out, I thought, 'For Alicia and Taraji (Henson), it's very much a real situation - as it is for Ryan. So when that guy gets hit with that 50 caliber, that's essentially what's going to happen - you actually fly apart. I wanted it to be really raw and nasty and have the sense of just absolute chaos exploding. And in the same way that there's a suddenness and a very violent, kind of vicious thing between Ray and Nestor Carbonell in the elevator, and the Tremor Brothers - that kind of spectacle in the hallway with them and the security guys. And then you have the Tremor Brothers early in the film with Ben and those guys. I've been lucky in my life that I haven't really been involved in a tremendous amount of violence; I can count the fistfights I've been in on one hand. But of those moments, there's been two of them that have been pretty extreme, so I just wanted the depiction of it to be that way. This is the first time 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. 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."
Assembling such a cast for the film was a little harder than you would think; Joe wrote his lead characters to fit what his actors had never done before. "They came to this thing because of the script, and also the ability; I told Jeremy, 'This is like a shot for you to really go deep and to completely do a 180 on Ari Gold and the stuff you've done in the past.' And I told Ryan, who is a brilliantly funny guy, 'I'm going to strip you of your ability to be that guy, to be the comic relief and really hinge it on him dramatically.' And I think he's a fantastic dramatic actor, and I have this theory about guys who are really funny understand drama and anger and violence in this really unique way. I think both of them are certainly like that."
As far as Alicia, she plays one of the assassins, along side Taraji. "I went to see her in Oakland at the Paramount Theatre; I said something along the lines of, 'Don't let people put you in some chicken sh*t romantic comedy. Let's go do something really interesting.' She really loved the written material; she loved this idea of this deviation and departure from Alicia Keys, the Grammy winning hugely famous rock star."
Joe knew when choosing Common what kind of person he was getting for the role; he plays Jeremy's assistant in Smokin' Aces. "He came in three or four times to audition and one time he flew back from Paris to audition; he never said anything, never said anything about the trouble we were putting him through - nothing. That's how kind of beautiful his spirit is; that's why I love him so much and that's why he was able to take that stuff. What's great about Common is that it's all in his eyes; you watch him and he has something that actors who had come in and read didn't have. He's seen sh*t, he's seen stuff in his life and he's experienced things; it just comes out through his eyes, he can just turn it on."
Carnahan is the man behind 2002's NARC which took place in Detroit; this time around, he went back to his roots, where he grew up - Lake Tahoe."Yeah, I love Tahoe; it is a 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 that way. It's funny because for being a place that's so exquisitely beautiful, it's considered the last stop in an entertainer's career. I consciously tried to avoid the beauty necessarily of Tahoe and more the kind of this great grime. The beautiful deep blue lake is this kind of grime and grit that I thought was interesting; and I was accosted by people from my past - just the ones that I owe money to that are out in Tahoe. I was able to put some guys, the TV station I worked for, they got their trucks up there to do some stuff for me. And an old friend of mine, Ken Rudolph, who was in my very first movie, plays an FBI character, he played in my very first movie and Smokin' Aces. So it was great and it was nice to give a lot of nods and a lot of love to that area because it's my home town and I'm very proud of it and I'm very proud of kind of being brought up there."
Next, Joe is working on James Ellroy's White Jazz starring George Clooney. "George's decision to play a guy who murders an innocent man wontedly, with a great kind of violence 10 minutes into the movie - to have a guy that's that much of a gamer as Clooney is. My approach to it is not going to be like L.A. Confidential. Well for one thing, if you think Smokin' Aces is freaky, I don't know what people are going to make of White Jazz because anyone who has read the book knows that's a whack job of a book. I look at it and go 'That's f*cked up.' I'm not really looking to invoke the movies of the '50s or to shoot it like a period piece. I'm really going to shoot it in a much more fashion like NARC. Just to keep it loose and fluid and overlapping and messy and chaotic would be my approach like the book - shoot it like the book is written."
That you have to wait for, but Smokin' Aces hits theaters January 26th; it's rated R.