IMDB Score – 8.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 93%
Directed By – Denis Villenuvue
Starring – Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Victor Garber, Jon Berntha, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffery Donovan, Maximiliano Hernández, and Julio Cedillo
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.
I’m back. No explanation needed. I’m back.
I’m confronted with an interesting question after today. Who is the best working director in the present time? Before this morning, the answer was simple, Paul Thomas Anderson. How could it not be him? The Master? Masterpiece. There Will Be Blood? Masterpiece. I have Inherent Vice coming into my mailbox for a second viewing tomorrow, but after the first viewing, it seems his latest effort has fallen short of such previous accolades. What other directors deserve such mention? Well, if Shane Carruth could put out more than one film every eight years I’d say he deserves mention. The Coen brothers have been as consistent as anybody working today but it’s that consistency that seems to prevent them from pushing themselves to the top in my opinion. I’m a man of change, a man of ever evolving interests and I need a director that encompasses such a viewpoint. Insert Denis Villenueve. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Villenuve has a very broad and diverse resume of films. He’s covered psychological thrillers with Enemy, drama with Prisoners and Incendies, and even the art house quiet film that is Maelstrom. Let me get this out of the way, Incendies is one of my favorite films of all time. It slays me, every time. I’ve been hooked to Villenuve ever since he opened Incendies with a close up shot of a middle eastern child soldier set to Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army”. Prisoners was haunting. Enemy was baffling. Now, he comes along with a film like Sicario and I’m left puzzling over whether this auteur from Canada could really be my favorite working director I still don’t have a clear answer, but honestly, right now, I think I have a feeling. Denis Villenuve may just have beat out PTA for the top spot in my highly coveted favorite director position. It’s an honor both earned, and deserved. Let us talk about his latest film…Sicario.
Has a film started out with such a bang before?
Jesus. What a way to open a film.
The thought of a SWAT team operation is reserved for the pivotal action set piece in most films and here we have Villenuvue opening his film with a full on tactical assault on a house in what seems to be Walter Whites neighborhood. What follows is nothing short of horror. I’m sitting in my chair, nails deep in my arm rests and it’s only been fifteen minutes into the film. I know what I’m dealing with and I know what is at stake.
I live in New Jersey. That is a far ways away from Mexico. I don’t really understand what it is like living next to such a country. I mean, I live next to New York. I’ve walked those streets. Never have I felt like I was in any danger. Mexico? That’s another world altogether. I can’t even imagine living in Juarez if it’s anything like how it’s portrayed in this film. It is hell on Earth, a warzone dolled up like a functioning city. In a way, this was the most shocking part of this film, that such a place can exist.
Villenueve knows what the fuck he is doing. This story is actually kind of simple. You take a cop from a Kidnapping division and insert her into a big boy league narcotics assault division. These people know how to get results. They laugh at fear. An average director would take such a premise and throw glitter at it, add a couple CGI action scenes and call it a day. Not Villneuve. There isn’t a single scene in this film that doesn’t reek with the smell of dread. The opening sequences only set a precedent that is carried out throughout the duration of the film. This is life. This is Juarez. Get used used to it. I was blown away by the rawness and overall bleak nature that Villenuve showed us in nearly every scene. Sure there were some scenes of humor, like the shot of Josh Brolin sitting in a meeting room wearing sandals as if they weren’t talking about a psychotic drug lord, but rather who was going to bring the potato salad to the company picnic. These moments are always snuffed out though with a musical score that reminds the viewer…hey, this is real shit. This isn’t some run of the mill TV episode about how the drug trade is supposed to work. This is why I love Villenueve. He doesn’t sugar coat anything. He doesn’t hold back when you think they should. He has close ups of rotting dead corpses. The has lingering shots of bodies hanging from Juarez overpasses. If the general tone is supposed to be horrific and uneasy, he’s going to show you. It’s reason why this film sticks out over the rest. It’s a raw hellride of momentous proportion.
Jesus, I haven’t even mentioned the acting. I’m not a big defender on the importance of awards season, but if Benicio Del Tori and Emily Blunt don’t get recognition for their roles in this film then there is something rotten in the state of Denmark if you know what I mean. Blunt carries the film for the most part with an absolutely dedicated and harrowing performance. She does this however, knowing, that this really isn’t her film. She isn’t really the main character in my opinion. Sure she gets the most screen time and fully takes advantage of this by giving a career performance, but this sin’t her film.
This is Benicio Del Toro’s film.
We’ve all seen what this man can do. He’s a virtuoso. A chameleon. His performance in this film only goes to show he’s one of the mot underrated actors working in Hollywood today. Del Toro SLAYS this role. His importance to the mission within the film is questioned throughout the run time but only towards the end do we know why his character is so important to the film and this is where Del Toro really shines as a menacing force. Every time he’s on screen I reel back with anticipation on what he’s going to do next. Even when he’s in a situation where the action should be the main player, he’s taking over the scene with his presence. By the end, you don’t know whether he’s somebody you should root for or somebody you should root against, and he plays this uncertainty brilliantly. He shines.
Cudos to my man Roger Deakins. I mean, I really don’t have to say that. He’s a master of his craft and only proves so again with his gorgeous cinematography. This film is all over the spectrum visually with scenes coming at night when the horizon is open with a Mexican sky unlike any other. His night vision and thermal camera scenes are perfect and engaging. Villenuve and Deakins team up to provide what is easily the most intense and “on the edge of your seat” harrowing extraction scene through Juarez that holds up to any action scene in recent history. I can’t stress that enough. From the moment they left in their caravan til the moment they arrived back at the base, I was enthralled. It’s easily one of the most adrenaline fueled scenes in recent memory for me. I loved it. I had to catch my breath at the end of it.
I just can’t say enough about this film. It’s a raw and brutal telling about the Mexican drug trade and doesn’t shy away from showing what horror such a business can show. The camera work, acting, musical score, and story pacing are top of their game good and I’m literally drooling at the chance to see this again. I’ve been a big fan of Denis Villenuve for years now and he never ceases to let me down. With all the “action” films released this year, besides Mad Max, this is your chance to see a film that not only provides top of its class action, but also a story and visual presence that will linger and make you think long after the credits roll. It’s my film of the year so far.