A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Produced By: Basil Iwanyk, Thad Luckinbill, Molly Smith
Written By: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Running Time: 121 Minutes
The previous collaborative efforts of French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve and iconic cinematographer Roger Deakins produced 2013’s Prisoners, the best film of that year in my opinion.
Back again, the pair have created Sicario, a masterfully crafted and shot picture that takes the worst aspects of Mexican drug cartel trade out of the deepest, darkest, inhospitable void and presents it on the big screen with an remorseless tone to match. Deakins may very well be the best director of photography working today, and Sicario is yet another example of his mastery at work.
Villeneuve on the other hand has shown the world that he is a serious presence in the directorial scene, and one would be privileged to work for him as he produces yet another gripping, tense film that is truly, truly affecting.
Following a request from associated parties, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) volunteers to embark on a mysterious mission involving an attempt to expose a deadly Mexican drug cartel. Kate finds herself out of her comfort zone all too quickly as she is given a front row seat to violence, tension and incomprehensible horror over the border, with some sights being too frightful and damaging to erase, more so than what she is already used to in her primary duties.
Caught within a violent war between the U.S. and Mexico, a task force lead by the brawn-fuelled Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the enigmatic Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), Macer’s involvement changes her world completely as the bigger picture is explored at its most devastating, cruel centre.
What Sicario is able to achieve is a constant sense of dread and terror. Never is there a moment of relinquishment for the audience to have some breathing space, as nothing feels safe. From the first frame, the levels of tension spike upwards and do not drop an iota for the remaining 120 minutes. This is not only indicative of solid writing, but professional directing and again, expert cinematography.
The writing lends itself to the brooding narrative at hand, whilst the shots are engaging and ominous simultaneously. There is a score that flows like a uneasy, pulsating undercurrent to the images, however every now and then, particularly in the heightened action sequences, long-winded crescendoing horns let out single notes that are haunting, alarming and dreadful all the same.
What Sicario ultimately boils down to is a script, score and visual style anything superfluous omitted wherever possible, and it is a true credit to those involved.
The visual presence of Sicario is breathtaking in every aspect imaginable. What the cinematographic aficionado has been able to achieve with his iconic eye is something other D.O.P’s fantasise over. Throughout the film, Deakins has been able to capture the darkness, the ugliness and menacing nature of the locations, all the while capturing something truly beautiful.
Within every single shot of Sicario there a curious juxtaposition between beauty and ugliness and it is arguably the best attribute of them film. There are scenes that take place at night, and how Deakins creates the sense of dread through a harsh red sunset whilst exhibiting a soft, somewhat romantic element within the exact same sunset is staggering.
When the film takes place entirely at night, the style changes into something much more raw and down to earth, as night-vision technology takes over and brings forward a completely new aspect to the film. Interchanging between the green goggle viewpoint and the negative inverted colour point of view of other devices, Sicario becomes something not too dissimilar to a video game in one the most gripping scenes of the entire picture.
Emily Blunt performs admirably in the central female role except as a character, Kate Macer is not one to relate or even sympathise with. This is not because she’s a ‘bad’ character, rather, an underdeveloped and simple one. This appears contradictory in relation to the previous praise of the writing, however those of you who have seen the film will understand that it is not the most crucial aspect of the story.
Macer is engaging and deep, but there was a lot more room to dig deeper and add complexities to her character.
Broiln’s Graver is the asshole of the film, something the trailers may not suggest. Although his part is critical to the narrative, his development more or less peaks after the first act, from which he does not change as a character in the slightest. If there were to be a character to experience change throughout the film, it would’ve been Graver. Sadly, there appears to have been a missed opportunity there.
The true talking point to emerge from Sicario is Benicio Del Toro.
The character of Alejandro is layered, unpredictable and compelling, however another dimension is added by enlisting Del Toro to bring him to life. The American/Puerto Rican talent hasn’t been better in recent years, providing a subtle but intense performance of a troubled character with a deep, rich history to work upon.
Denis Villeneuve has always managed to shock audiences in one way or another. Whether it’s through unthinkable circumstances in Incendies or through spine-tingling arachnophobia in Enemy, the director has never failed to get under audiences’ skin and linger there well past his welcome. Sicario is yet another addition to the dark, twisted filmography of Villeneuve.
With an expert visionary behind the camera and a group of expert actors in front, Villeneuve has blended the two parties seamlessly in one of, if not the darkest, most grim pictures of 2015.