Take a Drink: for each tense moment
Take a Drink: whenever a character does
Do a Shot: for each time Kate smokes
Take a Drink: to each breathtaking shot
Take a Drink: during each shocking moment
By: Matt Conway (A Toast) –
One of the most interesting directors to watch over the past few years has been Denis Villeneuve. The French-Candian director has seemingly had an astronomical rise over the past few years, with his directorial debut coming out in just 2009. Over the years, Villeneuve has created tense and distinct films such as Incendies, Enemy, and Prisoners; engaging yarns with much more on their mind than the average thriller. Thankfully, Villeneuve’s latest, Sicario, lives up to that standard, as a tremendously well-executed, hard-hitting thriller.
Sicario follows an FBI agent, Kate, who is enlisted by a government task force to aid in fighting the escalating drug war at the border between U.S. and Mexico.
From a technical perspective, Sicario is perhaps the year’s most accomplished films. Roger Deakins has proven time and time again to be the best cinematographer working today, and continues to deliver fantastic work here. Deakins yet again creates a unique look, delivering some jaw-dropping visuals while getting across the bleak tone of the film. He creates a really naturalistic look, from the grit of Juarez to the beauty of the Southwestern night sky. Scoring the film is Johann Johannsson, whose score creates a great mix of subtle and impactful sound.
Sicario nails some technical aspects that so many films before it have gotten so wrong. There is an extended sequence shot with a mix of night-vision and infrared, which in the wrong hands looks like a setpiece from a video game. With the talent behind the screen here, these moments have an artistry that is quite impressive to see. All of this adds brilliantly into the Villeneuve’s vision.
Performance-wise, everyone is bringing their A-game. Emily Blunt continues to turn in great performances, leading the way here. Similar to Jessica Chastain’s work in Zero Dark Thirty, Blunt turns what seems to be a relatively simplistic character into something far more memorable. She is as assertive and strong as she should be, but also displays some insecurities.
Stealing his scenes throughout is Benicio Del Toro, who is very much deserving of some Oscar attention. Del Toro as the mysterious Alejandro is just chilling to watch, as he brings a sense of mystery and villainy to the role. Alejandro becomes an enigma, whose unpredictability left me on the edge of my seat throughout. Supporting players such as Josh Brolin and Daniel Kaluuya also deliver solid work.
Yet again bringing his A-game behind the camera is Denis Villeneuve, who is quickly rising up to be one of the industry’s best directors. Along with the mixture of great technical qualities, Villeneuve is able to perfectly blend the arthouse and mainstream perfectly. Villeneuve is very much capable behind the camera, consistently capturing the sense of dread and tension throughout.
What Villeneuve does best with Sicario is keeping the audience at the edge of their seats. The film only features a few action setpieces, but the few present are stylish and shockingly realistic. There is a constant sense that at any moment the tables can turn on these characters, with no one ever feeling safe. For a Hollywood film, that is a rare treat to see.
Sicario’s success can also be heavily attributed to its screenplay. It’s hard to believe that this is scribe Taylor Sheridan’s first screenplay, as it is incredibly concise and taut. Along with great pacing, the film moves from beat to beat with a real naturalism, never feeling dragged down despite its heavy subject matter. At around 122 minutes long, the film is consistently engaging and moves at a great pace.
One of the aspects people have been somewhat mixed about is the character-builidng, which is a criticism I highly disagree with. This is a movie more so about the situation rather than the people in the situation, so giving long expository backgrounds on the characters would not feel fitting. Instead, Sheridan throws in small nuggets of information that really help the audience understand the characters and their complexion. Blunt and Del Toro’s characters in particular are incredibly interesting and well-realized, which is a product of the duo’s talent and interpretation of the script.
Where the script is most effective is its thematic material. Sicario’s allegorical themes on the drug war and military tactics hit hard, mainly because of the film’s unflinching honesty. The film is quite pessimistic, but that pessimism is very much warranted considering the damage this ultimately pointless war has done. Villeneuve’s deft handling along with the script make sure that these moments never come off as preachy.
Sicario is a exemplary arthouse actioner that achieves a rare blend between technical achievement and brains. It’s incredibly engrossing, uncompromising, and portrays a thoughtful grey moral ground. Hopefully, this is a major player come awards season, but I’ll save a spot on my Best Of list regardless.