Saturday, October 31, 2015

South Of The Border

Happy Halloween! This may not have been the treat you were expecting from a horror blog, but despite my postponed horror ambitions, I had to get something out for you guys. I love you all. Have a spooky day!

Year: 2015
Director: Dennis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Run Time: 2 hours 1 minute
MPAA Rating: R

When Sergio took me to see Sicario, he said it was this year’s Gone Girl (in that it took him by surprise and earned his #1 slot for the year). He had no idea how right he was. Sicario is this year’s Gone Girl, because it has received unanimous adulation from critics and audiences alike, yet – while I recognize its skill and quality – I personally can’t seem to get purchase on it.

Though my bladder survived Sicario, so it already comes off better in my esteem.

Here’s the sitch: Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a by-the-book FBI operative fighting the war on drugs. After a mission that succeeded in its goals but ended in tragedy, she is asked to join a special task force helmed by the too-casual Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). She agrees out of a sense of duty and a personal drive to end drug trafficking from across the Mexican border, but when she discovers that one of the team members is Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), a grizzled former prosecutor for a Colombian cartel, she’s not so sure.

She quickly discovers that the team’s methods are more than a little shady, involving illicit border crossing, public shootouts, and plain old torture. Thus begins her journey of being righteously indignant while watching bad things happen around her and eventually to her. Does she change? Sort of.

Does she bang Jon Bernthal? I wish.

While Sicario’s political agenda is clear, I can’t help but feel as if I’m bing kept at arm’s distance from the characters. Yes, it exposes the realities of when bad people do bad things to one another and good people get caught in the middle. The film shines when it depicts loss of innocence, on either side of the border. But the questions the film really wants us to ask just aren’t present beneath the boilerplate Badass with a Vendetta material.

It just feels like an action picture with a slightly elevated scope of geopolitical context, which is totally fine. Benicio del Toro successfully portrays a man emptied out by crimes of greed and vice, but as a character he functions more like The Shape from Halloween – an archetypical figure of pure symbolic force. There’s not exactly an opening to climb on into his psyche. And Emily Blunt (who, by the way, between this and Edge of Tomorrow, needs to star in every action flick from now on) skillfully portrays the heartbreak of a woman who has always played it safe discovering how dangerous the world can be. But she too is a cypher, and as skilled a Blunt is, she can’t break through the flatness of the page to construct a character who is genuinely worth caring about beyond her natural charisma.

But you know what genre works perfectly with flat, overfamiliar characters? Action! Sicario’s intense sequences might not all be guns-a-blazing high octane material, but they’re brutal and real, refusing to allow the catharsis of film violence and shoving your face right in the muck. The film opens on one such scene, and they never do lose their impact even as they get pared down to more intimate levels as the plot progresses.

Think of it as a reverse Mad Max.

Although many elements aren’t quite there for me personally, the one pristine banner I can stand behind is the cinematography. A climactic sequence is captured with real thermal and night vision cameras, alternating seamlessly between traditional and guerrilla shooting techniques to create an expansive visual universe that underscores the gritty realism of the plot. Sicario is also populated with cold, detached aerial shots that glide across city and desert alike as though it were John Carpenter’s barren tundra from The Thing.

You know what? I think Sicario is just trying to be a John Carpenter movie. Deliberate pacing, a buried political agenda, stunning yet chilly camerawork…

All it’s missing is the sense of fun.

Sicario is an intriguing piece, that’s for certain. It attempts to a – and clearly does – reach an audience with a harrowing emotional journey, yet the characters it puts through its paces are clean Etch-a-Sketches, ready to be twirled according to the personality and political temperament of whoever happens to be watching. It’s a beautiful vase, a sleek but empty vessel ready to be filled with your own thoughts and feelings. There ain’t nothing wrong with that. I just feel like that prevents certain Brennans from wholly accessing the film.

Check it out if you’re so inclined and/or want a very good reason never to do drugs. It’s like an anti-tourism commercial for Juarez. Directed by John Carpenter.

TL;DR: Sicario is a slick but empty action thriller with a massive political agenda.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 848
Reviews In This Series
Sicario (Villenueve, 2015)
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Sollima, 2018)

1 comment:

  1. That finale though. The last 20 minutes involving Benicio is some of the most bad ass material I have seen all year.