Sicario reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: Sicario reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Mon Oct 12, 2015 4:56 pm

I wouldn't describe the latter portions of the film as boring; rather, as over-familiar, bordering on hackneyed. I've seen that "the world is much more complicated/darker than you young person could imagine" speech many, many times; this film acts as if it's a news-flash. Oddly, the fact that it's a woman -- instead an Ethan Hawke/Andrew Garfield-ish rookie -- being given the lecture is what most distinguishes it from more recent films. Putting a woman in that position is so retro it's almost fresher. But still nothing remotely new.

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Re: Sicario reviews

Postby Sabin » Mon Oct 12, 2015 2:15 pm

I guess I'm in the minority. After Prisoners, I wasn't terribly pumped for this guy's next film, but I was mostly blown away. I guess I just don't understand people saying the film is great for the first 40 minutes and then boring as it goes along. To me, this was a very clear-sighted script (with one or two things I found confusing) that just kept confidently moving forward. It felt like a response to movies like Zero Dark Thirty and other obsession quests, where a plucky protagonist who wants to make a difference finds out what that means. The movie we were promised really stops the minute she gets on that plane and she spends the rest of the movie making sense of the movie she's in. This worked to me on a metatextual level but also as a gripping narrative.

It'll probably get another unsuccessful nomination for Roger Deakins but this is amazing work even for him.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Re: Sicario reviews

Postby Okri » Sun Oct 11, 2015 4:30 pm

I'll just echo you guys on this one. I particularly felt let down by the ending, which had the feeling of just being a giant whiff.

The Original BJ
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Re: Sicario reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Sep 19, 2015 2:07 am

Two years ago, Prisoners was one of the first movies for grownups after a mostly cruddy summer. I liked that movie, though I felt the most enthusiastic reviews were slightly over-inflated due to timing. And I feel a bit the same way about Sicario -- no doubt this is an intelligent, well-crafted thriller, but I agree that it has some limitations that prevent me from finding it the major achievement some critics have.

The movie's first chunk is easily its strongest. The opening raid has some startling, jolt-inducing moments, but scenes like Emily Blunt cleaning the bits of bloody flesh off of her put the movie squarely in serious territory; these aren't just movie-movie thrills. And then there's the movie's best sequence, the entire Juarez expedition, which is completely gripping throughout, as it slowly reveals that Blunt's character has gotten herself in way over her head. I was completely held for this entire portion of the film.

Following this sequence, the movie has other high points as well -- Blunt's date with the guy at the bar pushed the movie in a direction I didn't entirely expect, and the tunnel raid is a pretty tense, well-constructed set piece as well. But I started to have some narrative issues once the movie got to the third act, chief being that Blunt gets benched for most of it. I think this is the reason for Mister Tee's feeling that her character is thinly conceived -- had we kept following HER story as we had been, the movie would have been able to delve more deeply into her reaction to her situation. As it stands, we head off on another character's journey, and my cynical thought was, if this was really his story, why weren't we following his journey the entire time? Well, then you wouldn't have had a big third act plot turn.

But more limiting is just the fact that at this point, the movie really narrows its scope, and what seemed like a more sprawling depiction of the sheer chaos of the drug wars becomes a far more simple personal story. And though I found this section suspenseful and engaging enough, it felt like ultimately too minor a resolution for the fairly complex narrative we'd been following up to that point.

Blunt is reliably good, but I don't think she gets enough of the movie's focus for this to finally be the role that lands her an Oscar nomination after so many years of coming close. Brolin is funny in fairly acidic ways -- his condescension toward Blunt, the girl who's only around to serve his own needs, felt authentic to the way many men treat women in male-dominated industries. Best in show, though, is Del Toro, who commands the screen with the same kind of quiet authority he did in Traffic, in a not dissimilar role.

Overall, definitely worth seeing, though I'm inclined to think its award chances are a lot smaller than I'd anticipated based on reviews.

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Re: Sicario reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Sep 18, 2015 4:18 pm

I'd like to have liked Sicario more than I did. I was a fan of Villeneuve's Incendies and Prisoners (Enemy, not so much), largely for their complicated narratives and the ease with which the director navigated them. Here, the plot starts out equally complicated -- and, for quite a while, is gripping -- but, for me, it becomes a bit less by the end that it wants to be. The journey Emily Blunt's character takes feels somewhat thinly conceived, and even familiar.

As I say, I'd like to have liked it, because there's much to the film that's enormously effective. The first 40 minutes -- the opening raid, then a fully surprising/suspenseful trip to Juarez and back -- are first-rate: thriller-with-gravitas. And there's plenty to like in the remainder, as well. It just doesn't add up to enough.

It is, however, beautifully filmed. I didn't think Villeneuve's earlier efforts were that much in the visual department, but here his eye seems sharp from the start; that whole crossing-the-border sequence is one striking image after another. He gets a great deal of help from d.p. Roger Deakins, who provides some stunning aerial views, and a night-vision desert set piece that's truly gorgeous.

Emil Blunt is thoroughly solid, but the character's cliched aspects keep her from truly breaking through. Del Toro has the best role he's had in some time: a man of mystery who relies on being soft-spoken to achieves his ends.

Not a bad movie by any means -- in the three-star range, maybe a bit above. Which is less than what I'd hoped.

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Sicario reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Tue May 19, 2015 7:25 pm

It strikes me Villeneuve is the kind of director who's going to break through at the Oscars, sooner or later.

Variety
Scott Foundas

Two years after making his U.S. debut with the crackerjack kidnapping drama “Prisoners,” French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve ups his own ante with “Sicario,” a blisteringly intense drug-trade thriller that combines expert action and suspense with another uneasy inquiry into the emotional consequences of violence. A densely woven web of compelling character studies and larger systemic concerns, Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s bleaker, more jaundiced riposte to Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 “Traffic” may prove too grim and grisly for some audiences and too morally ambiguous for others. But with its muscular style and top-flight cast, this fall Lionsgate release should score solid (if less than “Prisoners”-sized) business from discerning adult moviegoers, along with dark-horse awards-season buzz.

In a terrific performance that recalls the steely ferocity of Jodie Foster in “The Silence of the Lambs” and Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Emily Blunt stars here as Kate Macer, an FBI field agent who has been forced to don a Teflon exterior in order to rise through the Bureau’s male-dominated ranks, and to cope with the depravity she frequently witnesses in the line of duty. “Sicario” begins with one such grisly find: dozens of rotting human corpses hidden behind the drywall in a suburban Arizona home belonging to an arm of a powerful Mexican drug cartel. But the carnage doesn’t end there, and when the next round of violence erupts with startling force, it sets the apocalyptic tone for everything that follows. Indeed, the opening of “Sicario” unfolds at such an anxiety-inducing pitch that it seems impossible for Villeneuve to sustain it, let along build on it, but somehow he manages to do just that. He’s a master of the kind of creeping tension that coils around the audience like a snake suffocating its prey.

Together with “Prisoners” and Villeneuve’s previous, Oscar-nominated “Incendies,” “Sicario” forms a loose trilogy about the politics of revenge and the value of a human life. But whereas those earlier films were panoramic in scope and choral in structure, “Sicario” unfolds almost entirely through the eyes of Kate, as she wades into the murky waters of an inter-agency task force assembled to give the U.S. a tactical leg up in the war on drugs. Helping to draw her in is Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a sandal-clad, stoner-cadenced mystery man who claims to be a Defense Department contractor, though Kate and her partner (Daniel Kaluuya) suspect from the start that he could be CIA. Like more than one character in “Sicario,” Graver can claim almost as many identities as he can ulterior motives.

Graver tells Kate that his operation needs her unique expertise, and while she isn’t fully convinced, she’s still young and naive enough to believe that there’s a right side in this war and that the U.S. is on it. Riding shotgun with Graver is another shadow man known only as Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) — the “sicario” (a slang term for hitman) of the title — who is said to be a former Mexican prosecutor, and who has the solemn intensity of a man determined to get his way or die trying. “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do,” he tells Kate matter-of-factly on their first meeting — words that double as advice to the movie’s audience.

The knotty plot that follows demands close attention but never becomes too difficult (or self-consciously opaque) to follow. It involves multiple trips back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border as the agents attempt to use one high-ranking cartel boss (Bernardo Saracino) to flush out an even bigger one (Julio Cesar Cedillo), though exactly why is a crucial detail “Sicario” holds close to the vest until late in the third act. In the meantime, Villeneuve stages one extraordinary suspense setpiece after another, starting with an epic traffic jam at the border that ensnares the Americans just as they are heading back home with a piece of very precious cargo in tow. Using no special tricks — just the sharp, color-saturated compositions of cinematographer Roger Deakins; the airtight cutting of editor Joe Walker; and the subtly menacing score of composer Johan Johannsson — Villeneuve creates a sequence as nail-biting as any “Fast and the Furious” car chase, except that here all the cars are standing perfectly still.

As in the films of Clint Eastwood (whose “Mystic River” exuded an obvious influence on “Prisoners”) and Michael Mann, the violence in Villeneuve’s work is savage and startling, but never overstated or sensationalized, and every bullet fired ripples with consequences for both the victim and the trigger man (or, as the case may be, woman). Navigating the crossfire, Blunt is mesmerizing to watch, her intense blue eyes ablaze with intelligence as she tries to sort out the facts of the case from its attendant fictions, and whether Graver and Alejandro’s endgame justifies its ethically dubious means.

Every bit as impressive is Del Toro, who has worked both sides of the street where cartel dramas are concerned (“Traffic,” “Savages”), but whose Alejandro is cut from considerably more complicated cloth. He is a swift, unforgiving man, with a wolfish jowl and the preternatural calm of the predator lying in wait. Yet he also shudders in his sleep, reveals flashes of battered humanity when one least expects it, and even, fleetingly, a Hannibal Lecter-ish lust for the flinty young woman thrust into his path. And as the film hurtles towards its climactic abyss, it is Del Toro who holds us rapt with a nearly silent performance that is the very embodiment of character through action.

Working with a mix of technical collaborators old and new, Villeneuve has once again delivered an impeccably well-crafted film, not least in Deakins’ arresting widescreen lensing, which alternates between vast aerial canvases that capture the epic sprawl of the border land, and closeups so carefully framed and lit as to show particles of dust dancing on a shaft on sunlight.


Hollywood Reporter
by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
A searing and superbly made drug cartel drama

The violence of the inter-American drug trade has served as the backdrop for any number of films for more than three decades, but few have been as powerful and superbly made as Sicario. Drenched in many shades of ambiguity as it dramatizes a complex U.S.-led effort to take out a major Mexican drug lord south of the border, Denis Villeneuve’s intensely physical new work is no less disturbing than his previous features Prisoners and Incendies and should be able to generate similar mid-level business as the former due to its relatable lawman (and law woman) elements. After world premiering it in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Lionsgate will hold back the domestic commercial release until September 18.

An opening note explains that “sicario” is cartel slang for hitman, derived from a term dating to ancient Jerusalem describing hunters of Romans. Loosely used, it’s a word that could apply to almost every character in this tense tale, which is not difficult to follow even if it does demand that close attention be paid. The script by first-time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who played Deputy Hale on television’s Sons of Anarchy until the character was killed off at the beginning of the third season, quickly establishes an environment in which everyone is capable of killing or being killed, as well as a roster of characters for whom the labels "good guy" and "bad guy" are so relative as to essentially become irrelevant.

Effectively operating as the audience’s surrogate is Kate Macy (Emily Blunt), a first-rate FBI agent specializing in kidnapping cases, who, with a SWAT team, discovers a “house of horrors” in which dozens of rotting corpses wrapped in plastic are hidden behind the walls. The house is owned by the Diaz family, a Sonora cartel operating on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border. Kate kills one bad dude herself during the operation, which is considered so successful that she’s paged to join a deep secret black-ops American mission to lop off the Diaz clan’s head.

Working in league with the Mexicans while knowing full well how compromised many of their security forces are, the Yank team welcomes its first female member (her black partner, played by Daniel Kaluuya, isn’t selected although he still goes along for part of the ride). But its on-the-ground leader, Matt (Josh Brolin), amuses himself by explaining as little as possible to Kate about what’s going on as they fly off in a private jet.

In a terrifically orchestrated set-piece, the Americans cross in a huge caravan from El Paso to Ciudad Juarez, navigate through dicey neighborhoods in which naked mutilated bodies hang upside-down from an overpass, extricate their prey from prison, then get stuck in horrendous traffic near the border crossing as menacing tattooed guys with guns materialize in a car nearby.

Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins worked brilliantly together on Prisoners while employing a very dark palette of blacks, gray and deep greens. Their collaboration here is equally great in a story and setting defined by parched desert tones, cheap and impermanent buildings and vast pale blue skies. A preponderance of scenes involves haves and have-nots of information or situations in which it’s unclear what the characters are really up to. The blocking, framing and use of lenses accentuate these disparities in ways that expertly heighten the tension and sense of uncertainty. There are also terrific aerial shots that show the border, including portions of the American-built fence, with great vividness.

The character who’s most often, and intentionally, kept in the dark about what’s going on is Kate. Far from being a naïve greenhorn, she’s already somewhat embittered (she’s divorced with no kids) and has trouble sorting out the chain of command, much less what’s expected of her. One of the big wheels in the heavily militarized operation is the world-weary Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a native Colombian said to have formerly been a prosecutor in Mexico, who warns her that, “Nothing will make sense to your American ears. By the end, you will understand.”

Sicario offers Blunt’s character nothing in the way of military challenges that can quite rival what the actress took on last year in Edge of Tomorrow. Instead, she provides a sharply penetrating reading of a smart, resilient young woman whose desire to help out is no match for the deceptions and frustrating barriers placed in her way. Seeing how much she has to contribute — to the missions at hand, to the country, to a personal relationship — it’s sad bordering on tragic to think that she could just end up as yet another potential victim of an unending war that, in one way or another, poisons everyone it touches. Blunt’s performance is first-rate.

There is plenty of heavy duty action here, as well as some startling shocks that come out of the blue, probably enough to sate audiences with genre appetites. But this is not a film in which a few heavily armed gringos can just strut into Mexico and take care of the problem with a few blasts of their big guns. The macho guys and the armaments are here, all right, but Sicario very clearly makes its point about how deeply the roots of corruption and drug-related contagion are embedded in the soil of Mexico and the American Southwest. And, via Alejandro, it underlines how the problem has moved north, from Colombia up to Central America, Sonora and the American border.

In the end, Kate’s desire to build a prosecutable case is trumped by jurisdictional issues, realities on the ground and personal vendettas, which are abiding. Good and legal intentions are as nothing in this world. “This is the future, Kate,” Matt advises her, and even when she briefly seeks a little personal r&r with a macho guy in a bar (Jon Bernthal), things are not what they seem. How can an honest woman win? How can the U.S. retain a semblance of virtue in such a struggle? How can Mexico and countries further south diminish this curse? How can the contamination of drugs and blood money be reversed? Such are the questions the film acutely raises and that no one can properly answer.

Unlike Blunt’s more dimensional Kate, the male characters are so prevented from showing their true selves by the professional roles they have taken on that they must remain a bit opaque. But from a behavioral p.o.v., the cast is outstanding. Excellent as the real-life drug lord in the as-yet unreleased Escobar: Paradise Lost, Del Toro underplays to strong effect here as a mysterious man clearly vying to live as many lives as a cat. Brolin is most engaging as the operations chief who bouncers between laid-back somnolence and gung-ho exuberance at the flick of a switch, while Victor Garber properly plays the American boss man with intriguing opaqueness.

Shot in New Mexico, the production has been superbly decked out in every department. But special note must be made of the brilliantly idiosyncratic and disturbing score by Icelandic composer Johann Johannson, which cranks up the unease of key scenes with an electronic bass wallow that then descends to seemingly impossible depths of apocalyptic dread.


Screen Daily
by Fionnuala Halligan, Chief Film Critic

Sicario is an ambush, a low-slung film about a dirty drugs war with Mexico which challenges and engages in equal measure. It moves with grim tenacity, confounding expectations until its very final sequence. Confronting the war on drugs in a way which is cinematic, but far from superficial, Sicario – cartel slang for ‘hitman’ — is very dark, but it’s also exciting. This is rock-solid, up-scale filmmaking from Canada’s Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Incendies), a director of growing prowess who straddles the arthouse and the multiplex comfortably here.

Rather than hark back to Traffic – both share a star in Benicio del Toro - Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay delivers a satisfyingly-complicated Heart of Darkness voyage for Emily Blunt as an FBI operative brought onside by CIA huntsmen who have their sights set on bigger game. Sicario is a throwback to the “enemy within” stream of post-Watergate thrillers from The China Syndrome on to Missing, all of which looked at the black hole at the centre of democratic accountability.

Sicario should engage both audiences and awards voters through Lionsgate, which is releasing US and UK on September 18 as an awards calling card. The film’s biggest surprise is the main female character, played by Emily Blunt, who defies expectations. Lulled by Blunt’s star power and sympathetic, stripped-down performance, audiences will feel secure in her upright FBI agent, thinking they know her arc; principled, uncomprehending, she’s in this battle over her head. It’s a tough role for Blunt. Information is withheld to the point where the plot’s credibility sways in the balance, and she has the thankless task of embodying American naivety to breaking point. She pulls it off.

Villeneuve is a skilful director of set pieces. Sicario has a difficult, fragmented plot to sustain, with the viewer in the dark and only slowly emerging into a half-light. The director deals the information out slowly via two extended, tense action threads which occupy the first 40 minutes of Sicario’s running time.

The first, introductory sequence involves a raid led by Blunt’s FBI agent Kate Macy, the head of a kidnap response team, on booby-trapped house in Chandler, Arizona where the remains of 42 cartel kidnap victims are found bricked into the wall. This leads, seemingly organically, to Blunt being selected by Defence Department contractor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to join an inter-agency task force aimed at decapitating the Sonora Cartel serpent via its US operation. Blunt is invited to tag along on an excursion to El Paso, which, illegally, turns into a sally over the border into the toxic city of Ciudad Juarez (“the beast”) to pull out a Cartel leader in a dynamic sequence which is truly edge-of-the-seat viewing.

This extra-judicial activity – and, latterly, murder – is complicated by the appearance of Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro), a former prosecutor and DOJ advisor from Cartagena, Columbia. “Nothing will make sense to you Americans and you will doubt everything we do, but in the end you will say, those guys were right,” he says. Both Brolin, as the superficially easy-going DOJ good-old-boy, and Del Toro, playing the role straight and silent are excellent in creating an atmosphere of relaxed, macho tension which holds a lethal threat. Sicario is satisfyingly well-acted.

The screenplay, by actor Sheridan (Sons of Anarchy), is challenging. Kate seems, at times, to be entirely symbolic, at others, entirely human. Villeneuve and Blunt make some interesting points with Kate’s character. Even at the onset, when she leads the Arizona kidnap response team, Blunt is not the beefed-up film cliché which has been the standard portrayal of a female warrior since Terminator 2: Judgement Day. She is deliberately presented as physically lesser, more vulnerable, than the men in the room, but morally tougher. They want her on board, but not her Law School-graduate FBI partner (Daniel Kaluuya), the intimation being that she’s not quite so smart. She’s certainly way, way, out of her league. Blunt plays the divorced Kate with a quiet resolution, a solid performance which should help lift the British actress into more serious roles. “You look like a little girl when you’re scared,” she is told. But this is an environment with no mercy for its children.

Technical credits are superb. DP Roger Deakins weights the landscape towards the skies of the south borderlands of Albuquerque, New Mexico and El Paso (Sicario also shot in Veracruz, Mexico), in precise, clean shots, anchored by the low shrublands which a hold a world of menace, Horizons are low here, for everybody; empty one moment, when they are filled the next by the teeming brick of Ciudad Juarez, it’s a shock.

The music by Johann Johannson, although it does occasionally draw on some low-bass tropes, seems perfectly judged both to the action on screen and its scale.


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