Film Review : Sicario (2015)

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 Hern├índez, 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.

5/5




Advertisements

Film Review : American Hustle (2013)

IMDB Score – 7.7
Rotten Tomato Score – 93%

10 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Director, Editing, Screenplay, and all acting categories

Directed By – David O. Russell
Starring – Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Husto, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, Elizabeth Rohm, and Robert De Niro

A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso. DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

After weeks of procrastinating, I finally got out to see “American Hustle”. When I first saw the trailer I decided that it was going to be a film that I would have to wait for the right mood to see as I’m very conflicted on whether I like David O. Russell or not. Honestly, I think the ten Oscar nominations finally got me to get off my ass and see it. I still haven’t seen “The Fighter” and I waited until “Silver Linings Playbook” was released on blu ray to see it. I ended up liking SLP a lot but I still have a horrible taste in my mouth from my viewing of “I Heart Huckabees” which I considered pretentious crap. David O. Russell has always been a director who likes to throw the plot out of the window when he feels and while sometimes he makes the right decision, like last year, sometimes he makes a mistake, which I feel he did in small amounts during “American Hustle”. That being said, I actually enjoyed the film a lot, but that was due to the absolutely incredible cast and not so much the work of Mr. O. Russell. That sounds weird. Mr. Russell? Middle initials are weird.

This is listed as a comedy. I didn’t laugh much. There were a lot of instances where I said to myself, “this is where a laugh is supposed to be”, but it just didn’t happen. Christian Bale’s come over was where the comedy for me came from. I loved looking at it. It was a thing of beauty. I don’t know who the hairdresser was on set, but they must of had a great time putting that gorgeous thing together. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I was sitting there sulking. I just didn’t laugh the way you’re supposed to in a supposed comedy, which is what this is supposed to be at heart. I could be wrong. Maybe this was supposed to be a semi serious crime drama, but if that is true then the marketing department owes me an apology because every promo spot I’ve seen screamed comedy in my face.

I read that most of the acting in the film was improvised to the point where the script had to be changed in order to make the improvisations work on film. It showed. The first two thirds of the film were all over the place. Characters came in and out and brought back later when you’ve forgotten who they were. Issues were brought up and then never solved or talked about again and motives of the main characters were unclear. It was just sloppy in parts and while it didn’t restrict me from enjoying the film, it certainly could have helped this film be one of the better this year. The thing that truly kept me in this film, was the acting.

The acting was fantastic. All four main stars, with all due respect to Jeremy Renner, deserved their Oscar nominations. I would even venture to say that Bradley Cooper deserved his in the Lead Acting category because he was just as important to the film as Christian Bale. To say he supported it is just wrong. When the nominations came out, I was surprised, along with man others, to see Cooper on the list. Everybody can eat it. Last year Cooper showed me that he can be a fantastic actor and he only solidified that with his performance in this. He was explosive. His “supporting” role partner Jennifer Lawrence stole every scene she was in. She played the logically challenged but secretly intelligent wife of Christian Bale perfectly. All the funny lines in the film were delivered by her. She’s the reason I’m going to start calling my microwave a science oven. Amy Adams was versatile as ever. She honestly can’t do anything wrong. Her British accent wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and she’s one of the few actors and actresses than can sell an audience merely by her eyes. She’s amazing at her craft. Finally, Christian Bale knocked it out of the park with his subtle portrayal as the Brooklyn con man who is too overweight and can’t see that he has a horrible haircut. He was quiet throughout most of the film but carried anybody who was in a scene with him by letting them overpower his character with theirs. He was like a great set up man in basketball, setting up the glory for everybody else but also being completely pivotal in the success around him.

The film really came together towards the end as there finally seemed to be a point to the script and it’s here that I finally accepted this film as a Best Picture nominee. It actually has a chance to win, although it shouldn’t, but it certainly belongs in the race. The acting was easily the best of the year if you factor in everybody involved. I didn’t even have time to mention Louis C.K. and Robert De Niro who were in the film only briefly but were great to see. It may not be a re watchable film for me, but it was a fun watch and I’m glad I finally went out to see it.

3.5/5