Friday, 9 October 2015

Sicario review

First it was Prisoners, and then it was Enemy, but now it's all about Sicario. Denis Villeneuve's latest is his biggest budget effort yet, and his only film that's lined up as a blockbuster sensation. But just how good is it? Hit the jump to find out!

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario
I think its important to fully realize and acknowledge one thing when you go to see Sicario - it's not a happy film. Don't go in expecting any happiness at all in fact. And certainly, crucially, don't expect a positive ending. You won't find it. Similar to the films tagline - "The deeper you go, the darker it gets" this film is a twisted maze of deceit, corruption, and sick violence that threatens to derail into pitch blackness. Then does.

It's made clear from the beginning - authoritative figures are not who they claim to be. Don't trust them. That leaves us the rest of the film to figure out just who they are, and what they want. Believe me, that takes a long time - we open on a drugs raid, but we don't find any drugs. No - it's far worse than that. What the FBI, headed by Emily Blunt, find are bodies. Lots of bodies. Villeneuve certainly knows how to make an impact.

Brolin and co.
Before we know it, our main protagonist is heading off to El Paso, or is that Juarez? The distrust and deceit is palpable. As the gang head into Mexico, we see more bodies: mutilated, naked, raped. All the while an ominous electronic score drones on. The violence is bloody and realistic, Villeneuve keeps showing us a police officer with his son. We know the inevitable. One could argue that he's a touch heavy on his foreshadowing here, but hey, it's distressing and riveting stuff.

Emily Blunt spirals into darkness
Then Sicario goes a little awry. For around 40 minutes, it just potters around in semi-interesting genre mush. Think typical thriller (with the exception of an exceptional motel sex scene, or is that a fight scene?), done well of course. As a prestige marker, think 3 stars. Indeed, Blunt, Brolin, Del Toro and co. just plan a lot, and fall out a lot. But finally, we get to the point: the taskforce travel to a drugs tunnel. Why? We aren't told the purpose. It's dark, so the night vision comes on, lighting the world in an unnatural and uncomfortable glare. The music rises once again. And the taskforce moves in down a giant black pit in the ground. One could argue that they never come out again.....

For, despite the fact that the characters physically emerge, the film spirals into darkness so pitch black, that you wonder how the film was acquired for a 'blockbuster' style release. I wont spoil anything, but lets just say that I, one who is used to ultra-dark films, was surprised to the lengths that this film goes.

The aftermath of violence
The violence is consistently intense as well. From the copious amounts of dead people displayed on screen (one may even pause to wonder if Villeneuve takes some kind of sick pleasure from it, in the same way that Refn would fetishise Drive,  I certainly hope not), to the matter-of-fact style shootings laced throughout the film. I think it's impossible not to pause and consider just why this film didn't reach an 18 certificate. But then I thought about it a bit more: there is much violence that is only implicit. Sicario plays with how we respond to violence. Sure there are 2 or 3 scenes of actual violence, but mostly we only get part of the story. For instance, those dead bodies I mentioned earlier, we don't ever see their demise. In other scenes we hear slitting of throats, gargling. It's disturbing, but not explicit. We see a plughole in a cell as we hear a beating. We don't need to see the brutal torture, or see a waterboarding. Hollywood has shown us this enough, Villeneuve knows this. Or, in possibly the most disturbing scene in the movie, we see the gun go off. And we hear it. We see the impact a minute later, but we know the unthinkable has happened. We hear the characters describing bodies dissolving in acid, being beheaded, children being shot. Point taken: cartels ain't nice.

The performances are fantastic also. I don't believe Oscar nominations are on the cards, nobody really has a large enough role, but they're fantastic in any case. For instance, Benicio Del Toro is one of the finest enigmas in modern cinematic history. He hardly talks, but at certain points in the movie he unleashes the darkest, most unrelenting violence, all with the same cold stare. If his part had been slightly larger (And to be honest I don't really see that), we could be looking at a best supporting actor award. As in, really, this film is worth seing just for him. And Josh Brolin is as fantastic as ever. He's really having a good year, with this and Inherent Vice. Of course, the main concern character wise is our heroine, played by Emily Blunt. Blunt plays the character pitch perfect, with an innocence and confusion that winds throughout the whole movie. One just wishes that she'd stop being so innocent!

In short, I feel as if Sicario is a film of three parts. In the first, we are exposed to the crazy action and brutal world of the cartels, I would give this 4 stars. In the second, we have a political drama with a bit of subtext and action, I think this is worth around 3 stars. And in the last half hour, we have the darkest, most entertaining, and the most beautiful thriller of the year, undoubtedly worthy of 5 stars. So where does that leave us?

Well, I think it leaves us with a very good film that's painfully short of masterpiece status. Like Prisoners, and Enemy, Villeneuve has created an incredible, and extreme dark world of visceral thrills and cerebral meditations.

Sicario gets 4 stars!

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