Mad City (1997)
I must confess that I first attempted to watch Mad City (1997) a few years ago, gave it a few minutes and gave up on what I thought was a cheap and stupid hostage film. Then a few months ago I shared Ace in the Hole (1951), which gained a response on Twitter. As I’ve been revisiting films I thought it should only fair to check this film out again when it made itself available to me. I couldn’t see the connection myself between the cynical Billy Wilder classic which I now can see is see is the first of its type of films about driven journalists to get their big story and of course claim all the glory for it too.
And so begins another compare and contrast review between the two films that are almost 50 years apart. The basic ideas of both films are the centre of them. We have a gap in-between with Network (1976) that shows how far the media will go for a story, brought bang up-to-date with Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), which really show the extremes to which a New channel will go to for ratings.
However it’s not about ratings or readership for either Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) or for Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) who we find at the bottom of the barrel, an unknown little paper and a small local TV station who are in 9th place. It’s a more personal dilemma for these two who have reached personal rock-bottoms after a number events that have lead them almost give up on journalism altogether. It’s only by chance that they hit upon a story that gains more attention then they’ve had before, and not for wanting it. What makes them both stand apart is the men who play them. admittedly I think Douglas has this role nailed, the drive and determination come to the actor far easier than the more sensitive Hoffman who is by far the more versatile actor, so equal for different if that makes any sense.
If I leave Wilder’s original to focus on the latter which has more of an impact even nearly 20 years later if this film was to be made again it would be more like Nightcrawler (2014) , instead of waiting for the story to break you break into the story, capture and sell. Brackett is just a very lucky man in a bad situation, after recording a piece of “fluff” or public interest he unwittingly walks into a hostage situation led by recently fired Sam Baily (John Travolta) who wants to get his job back at the museum which is facing closure. So everyone’s going through bad times at the moments, the journalist stuck in a dead-end station, an unemployed security guard and a curator Blythe Danner is trying to keep her museum open. The next three days are the last thing she wants.
I think what makes this film that much darker than the cynical original is the effect that the journalist has on the public and other journalists who’re drawn to this story, well it’s not a story it’s a crime scene or situation that has developed and been moulded into a new-story that for the length of the film just keeps on giving. Brackett knows all the tricks in the book to ensure that everyone outside, even the police ensure he can carry on inside and out. He manipulates the seemingly innocent (to the attention) Sam who want his job back, he has no real plan, even though he carries a blunderbusses and a bag of dynamite. Caught in all of this are a class of children and a fatal mis-shooting that only makes the hostage situation worse. You could say Mad City is a combination of Ace in the Hole and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) which really does go all wrong too fast, played more for laughs than the drama that fuels the black comedy bank robbery.
Going back to Ace in the Hole again the attention that’s generated is only limited by the culture, and the technology. People come from all over the country to hear about the guy trapped in the abandoned hole. The advancement of technology has only blown a small town hostage into something far, far bigger than Tatum could imagine but would still have eaten it all up. Of course in both films all of this build up comes with its own consequences, as much as they believe they have been helping to build and maintain all comes crashing down before them. With the promise of a successful future they both grow a conscience, a shred of morality which they have been lacking, the public caught up in all of this hysteria are blameless in all of this.
Mad City is a clearly an update of Ace in the Hole which is much forgotten like this lesser known film with two strong actors. Why is that though? I think because the media moves so fast that the clunky kit that we see has been long lost. Journalists still run around like vultures for the next hot story, the public caught up in it can’t help but sell their story of the money is right. City is one of the lesser known films that you can still watch and not think what were those actors thinking?