Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: Sicario


In his short career behind the director's chair, Dennis Villeneuve has already authored what many consider to be a masterpiece in 2013's Jake Gyllenhaal / Hugh Jackman thriller Prisoners.  I thoroughly enjoyed that film and loved the tension that Villeneuve was able to convey on the screen.  Fortunately for what has been a lackluster slate of films so far in 2015, Villeneuve has done it again, ratcheting up the drama with Sicario, a gritty pull-back-the-curtain look at the modern-day drug war along the US/Mexico border.

Emily Blunt headlines a top-caliber cast in the lead role as green FBI agent Kate Macer whose high-profile drug siege leads to her involvement in a joint task force mission in and around Juarez, Mexico. Josh Brolin plays Matt Graver, a DEA agent who helps lead the mission with some specialized assistance from a mysterious consultant named Alejandro played brilliantly by Benicio Del Toro.  The trio embark on a serious of secret tasks that are aimed at bringing down one of the most powerful drug lords in Mexico.  Villeneuve does a great job of showing most of the events in the film through the eyes of Kate who can't believe the violence and corruption involved in the trafficking of illegal narcotics.

Blunt and Del Toro are the heart and soul of this film. Blunt continues to show her amazing range as an actress. She can play funny (Dan in Real Life), sing admirably (Into the Woods) and show her bad-ass side (Edge of Tomorrow). There's really not a role out there that is beyond her talent and I really feel she might be one of the top 5 actresses working today. Her performance as Kate grounds the entire film and brings us along for the action and despair along the way.  I wouldn't be surprised to see her honored with a nomination come Oscar time. The same goes for Del Toro who is both fierce and subdued in his shady and sinister performance. I would say this is the best work he's done since his Academy Award winning turn in Stephen Soderbergh's Traffic. I guess he brings out his best work in drug-themed films.

What really sets Sicario apart from other films of 2015, however, is the wonderful cinematography of Roger Deakins.  Deakins, a 12-time nominated (with NO wins) visionary, shoots Mexico and the Southwestern USA with a vast glorious scope.  He's able to convey the wide spaces of land and the rugged terrain in such a powerful way that the landscape almost becomes a character itself in the film. I really hope he gets notice in the Oscars but I'm sure it's going to be hard to take the title of best cameraman away from Chivo Lubezki (Gravity/Birdman/Revnant).  The beautiful visuals in Sicario are perfectly paired with a pounding accelerating score by Jóhann Jóhannsson (Theory of Everything).

The only drawback I found in this film is the inclusion of Jon Bernthal as a questionable Arizona cop that meets up with Kate at a bar.  Bernthal's performance is OK, but he is so synonymous with his Shane character from The Walking Dead that it took me out of the theme and setting of the film when he first appears on-screen.  I also felt that his subplot was not totally necessary in the overall narrative.  That being said, I'm nit-picking a bit here and this movie is extremely close to 5 JRs.  The final 30 minutes of the film (which center on Del Toro's character) are gripping tense and end in a thrilling face-off over a dinner sequence that's almost worth the price of admission alone.  In the end I have to give Sicario an extremely positive 4.5 out of 5 JRs for one of the best movies of the year so far and another winning turn by an emerging director in Hollywood.