Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sicario

By Sati. Wednesday, September 30, 2015 , , , , , , ,

 (spoilers!)
There is this tingling sensation in your spine. It happens when you are afraid. It happens in the moments of tension. The feeling of blood running up and down your spinal canal. This is the feeling that you will experience during the whole run time of Sicario, Denis Villeneuve latest movie, and for several hours afterwards.

There is a word that perfectly describes that film - that word is "relentless". The film, though it has characters that we don't really have much reason to care about (but we do) and doesn't present anything unique (there are so many films about cartels) is so exceptionally well made that it's simply an extraordinarily tense ride.

The people behind the film understand that what makes a great thriller is not the abundance of shootings, murders or jump scares and plot twists - it's the fear that something horrible can happen at any moment. From the very first moment the film builds up the dread of what may come, because this is the world where behind every corner there may be a mutilated body or an explosion waiting to happen. Though the opening blast is easy to predict there is no way of telling when the shots will be fired in the film's upcoming sequences.

This atmosphere of dread if largely accomplished not just by Villeneuve's skillful directing but also thanks to the great combination of Roger Deakins's gorgeous, static shots, Jóhann Jóhannsson's pulsing and disturbing score and the terrific editing and sound work. The film is like a heart covered in tar, just pounding and pounding. Deakins' work here is just lovely and he finds beauty in the most ordinary things like peanut wrappers or dust. The aerial shots are impressive but it's the way he shoots some of the climatic scenes, especially the culminating dinner scene, that is truly outstanding. That dinner also has the biggest shocker of the year - not in gotcha way because what happens is perfectly in line with character's actions. It' the size of balls of the movie's producers who gave a go ahead here that is impressive.

Perhaps the biggest attraction of Sicario is Benicio Del Toro's performance. Del Toro is a great actor who won his Oscar for thematically similar movie, 14 years ago, in Traffic. But it's been years since I've seen him as good as he is here, probably not since 21 Grams. Pick up any review of the film and it's highly likely that they will be mentioning him as the standout. This is Ledger's Joker and Bardem's Anton Chigurh of this year.

Indeed I saw one of the critics compare Del Toro's character to No Country for Old Men's villain. There are similarities here that cannot be denied but Alejandro is a better character and he does something Chigurh cannot - he makes the audience feel conflicted when the movie forces you to take moral sides or downright horrified when you make your choice. Imagine if Chigurh not only had a good reason to kill but also had been through something so awful, when he kills a child you understand why he did that and feel for him.
Alejandro's back story is revealed in two sentences and these two sentences describe something so unimaginably horrible my throat clenched. This is another thing Villeneuve and the writer understand - what you don't see, what you simply hear about, is so much worse than if it was shown to you because your own imagination starts working and it's always worse than whatever filmmakers can conjure. Any other director would go for some gut wrenching flashback scene (hello there, soon to be entering the Oscar race Julia Roberts found my dead daughter in the dumpster) but not Villeneuve. He is not interested in easy solutions. So we get these two sentences, Alejandro having nightmares and the proof of what he is capable of because of what happened unfolding before our very eyes. And that's enough.

There are plans for Del Toro's character to have a stand alone sequel .This is a terrible idea. Alejandro is a great character but in part it's because he is like this ghost of vengeance, lurking in the shadows, creeping somewhere with his gun. A whole movie about him takes away his mystique and I'm sure it would just turn into some ridiculous avenger type of movie.
Sicario is, unfortunately, not without flaws. It's incredibly strange that a filmmaker as smart as Villeneuve and the writer who created a script otherwise this good allowed for this whole superfluous Mexican cop and his family subplot to happen. It brings absolutely nothing to the movie. The message that innocent people hurt because of what is going on is shown well enough without tedious scenes of this guy eating breakfast and talking to his son. Him merely stating he has a son would be enough. We get it, Denis. Evil causes more evil and it infects everyone in its radius. No need to spoon feed this to us.

That whole subplot is also responsible for the movie ending a scene later than it should, but these are small flaws - they are very noticeable but that's only thanks to how great everything else in the movie and the script is. As great as Del Toro is and there is no doubt that he steals the movie, it was Emily Blunt's role that was the most difficult one here. Kate is the audience surrogate yet unlike the animated corpse of Maya, played without ounce of charisma by Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, Kate actually acts human.
There are plenty of moments when we see Kate react like a person in her job or situation would. The script also allows Blunt to have more relaxed moments, when she is with her partner. And she is such a versatile and likable actress that we care about her Kate from the get-go. It's not true what some say about her character - that unlike Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty she doesn't have a big moment. Chastain had her ridiculous over the top screaming hissy fit but for Kate it is her standing her ground as the only innocent one left - and not taking that shot in penultimate scene.

Blunt looks appropriately disheveled for her part - her Kate doesn't care about her outfits, to her partner's horror, she is losing weight and she is often times afraid, unsure and nervous. This is are all little things but they make her character believable, not some robotic agent that is always sure of herself and always right. There are also little things illustrating how much of a toll her job took on her - she is divorced and when things hit the fan she starts smoking like a chimney. All those things make us feel like we know Kate and make it all the more admirable that even though it's so hard she still tries her best to make the world more peaceful. It's a shame Blunt probably won't score big nominations for this part nor that she isn't the biggest shining attraction in the film, especially that this poor girl had to take some beating here. Her rough scenes with Bernthal and Brolin were painful to watch.
Then there is the supporting cast but no one really has much chance of standing out with Blunt and especially Del Toro in the film, everyone is convincing, though. Brolin manages to create a really interesting ambiguous character because you never know if he is really good at his job or if he is a jackass. Or - and most likely - a combination of both.

While Sicario doesn't break new grounds I cannot remember the last time I saw a pure crime thriller this tense. Given how long it's been since we saw something like this (Ridley Scott had ambitions with The Counselor and it just blew up in everyone's faces, let's not even mention Savages) the film may even have a good shot when it comes to big awards this year. It certainly is a good thing given that Villeneuve is very good director and he needs more exposure - I fear his last year's Enemy was very underseen so it's wonderful seeing how many people are interested in Sicario.

Sicario
(2015, 121 min)
Plot: An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro  

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24 comments:

  1. Excellent review! My theater just got this so I'm going to try to see it next week after I catch The Walk and The Martian.

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    1. Thank you! hope you'll like it and I cannot wait to read your thoughts on The Martian I'm planning on seeing it next week

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  2. I liked this too, not as much as you, but certainly a lot more than Zero Dark Thirty. There were some amazing scenes, and though the ending for me sort of felt a little underwhelming, I completely understand the direction of the movie to show us the result.. which in a way, was that nothing happened, though Del Toro's character did something really bad.

    Your review makes me wonder whether I should have watched it alone because my friend started laughing at the wet willy scene which took some seriousness out of the movie, but luckily it was followed by something amazing so it was all good.

    Now I'm eager to write my own review as well, to discuss the little details that stood out for me!

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    1. Wet willy scene was met with a lot of laughter at my screening, I think that was the intention - to unload the tension here and there because that film was insanely intense

      You should totally write the review!

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  3. Great review! This comes out in theaters here next week, hopefully I get to watch it by then. I'm very excited for this, particularly for Emily Blunt.

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    1. Thank you! If you like Blunt I think you're gonna like this one a lot!

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  4. I don't know, I thought the side plot with the Mexican guy and his family added a lot to the film. It showed us his domestic life, his responsibilities, the people who rely on him - and then dispatched him really swiftly, just to emphasise the unforgiving nature of the world that these characters are surrounded by. Great review though, glad you liked it. Easily one of the best movies from this year for me :)

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    1. I thought it wasn't needed - it wasn't a bad subplot but it was too detached from the main narrative and the point of the war of drugs touching the lives of innocent was already well shown in the movie

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  5. I saw spoilers...so I didn't read this...but a 9 is a great grade and with your seal of approval (and my love of Blunt), I'm so excited for this one!

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    1. I hope you get to see it soon. You know you should probably leave Fury Road for last because nothing is gonna top that :)

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  6. I am all over this one. And that Emily Blunt...sigh....

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    1. She is fantastic here and looks absolutely gorgeous

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  7. Wonderful review Sati, as usual! I had this on my list of must sees this year, but I may need to rent it. I'm such a wuss when it comes to movie violence now. I'm at the point in my life where sometimes a film sticks with me...and may even give me nightmares. It sounds like 'Sicario' is that type of movie...I say that in a good way. I am so happy for Blunt and grateful that she's finally getting the roles and the credit she deserves.

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    1. Thank you! Oh there isn't much violence - there are some dead bodies and Emily's character has rough scenes with two male characters but it's nothing that would be more than for example what is in Scorsese's films. It is a thematically disturbing movie, though

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  8. Great review! I fucking loved this film. Given the pretty ecstatic audience reaction, I think the studio will push hard come awards time, which means we could see Blunt sneak in there. She probably won't have a shot at winning (like Pike for Gone Girl), but it would be great to see her score a nomination. Del Toro was such a fucking beast in this. I agree, he's right up there in 21 Grams-level good territory. I can't wait to see this movie again!

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    1. Thank you! Blunt is so overdue, she has been giving amazing performances for years now and she is still not an Academy Award nominee. This was a difficult role and she absolutely nailed it.

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  9. Great review! I'm really excited to see this, and I'm glad that Blunt has been getting great roles lately. She deserves them.

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    1. Thank you! hope you'll like the movie!

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  10. Really, really great review Margaret. I don't really know how to review this one without repeating everything you've already mentioned. I couldn't help but keep thinking that this was everything Zero Dark Thirty wanted to be and failed. This movie is bonkers good. And that score???! And del Toro! Ahhh!

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    1. Zero Dark Thirty is like the ugly, catatonic sister of this one :D

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  11. Excellent review!!! And my love Emily is getting all the praise in the world for her role in Sicario. Benecio Del Toro's character seems to get everyone riling up so I hope he doesn't totally overshadow Blunt when I watch it :).
    Sadly, the film only played for like 6 days in my area for a limited run and I was overwhelmed by work from uni and couldn't catch it.Will do as soon as it comes out on Bluray.

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    1. Thank you! He does almost totally overshadow everyone and everything but Blunt and cinematography are still memorable :)

      I'm sure they will release it soon just in time to remind voters during Oscar season

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  12. YAY! This is one of my favorite films of the year! Blunt and Del Toro are wonderful, and the film really is a fantastic crime thriller. Fingers crossed for some Oscar noms!

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    1. It's gonna be a crime if Del Toro isn't at least nominated for this

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