Sunday, October 18, 2015

OVP: Sicario (2015)

Film: Sicario (2015)
Stars: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Oscar History: 3 nominations (Best Cinematography, Sound Editing, Original Score)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

If you have read this blog for very long, you know that I have a complicated history with Denis Villeneuve.  I first loved his film Incendies, giving it my OVP in 2010, and followed it with a complicated loathing of the movie Prisoners, and finally was fully back onboard with his cerebral Enemy last year.  Overall, though, he's at that point where I will pay for the ticket pretty much regardless of the reviews as none of his films have been short on fascination, and that's the case with Sicario, which landed somewhere in the middle for me in terms of the Villeneuve filmography.  The film's heavy on atmosphere, but light on character and works as often as it shouldn't.  It's yet another rich movie with some angles that I didn't care for, so let's get started.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Kate Macer (Blunt), an FBI agent who is drawn into the world of the Mexican drug cartel to work with a CIA officer Matt Graver (Brolin), who is unorthodox but appears insistent that Kate be his partner for the mission, dismissing her current partner Reggie (Kaluuya) to the background.  As they proceed, they give Kate little information about what is actually happening, and even when his seemingly more forthcoming partner Alejandro (del Toro) comes into the picture and they are more revealing of their plans (that they are headed to Juarez, Mexico, instead of El Paso), Kate remains lost, though savvy audience members will see that clearly Kate is a bit of a pawn at this point in the plot, a reputable alibi for the seediness that both Matt and Alejandro are doing in Mexico in trying to find some semblance of balance and order regarding the deeply violent Mexican drug cartels.  The film continues along this path, with Kate doing that most classic of cinematic motifs (descent into hell), as she gets further and further outside the law and into the raw danger of this world.

That raw danger is clearly the best asset this movie has going for it  Frequently the film seems to be borrowing from films like No Country for Old Men and The Counselor, as Texas is framed not as a a welcoming desert but instead as something vast and isolated-we get a sense quickly of how the constant quiet sort of mesmerizes you and leaves you wondering what happens next door.  There is also a sense of the violence that happens in the Mexican drug cartels, and why this feels like an unwinnable war, enough so that when you realize that Alejandro is only working with the CIA to avenge his wife and take back control of the drug cartel for himself, you're almost left with a sense of justification (better the enemy we know...), even though he's going to continue to perpetrate violence on people and give people access to dangerous and deadly drugs.

Del Toro has been winning raves for the role, and it is indeed the kind of performance that Oscar notices (though you have to wonder if del Toro is tired of being nominated for playing convicts and criminals at this point in his career), and he's too strong of an actor not to excel in the role, though I do wonder if Villeneuve might have underwritten not his Alejandro (who gains from underwriting) but everything around him so that his showdown is a bit more heightened.  Del Toro is basically the lead, in reality, as Blunt's Kate is at once completely alien to this world and too little is known about her.  Kate is clearly someone who joined the FBI for the right reasons, to make a difference, but the film's interest in her is more to watch her go from naive to worldly, but we never get the sense of why she's so alone, why she's so passive, and she doesn't get Alejandro's intriguing storyline to really drive that home.  Blunt's a good actor (admittedly not as good so far in her career as del Toro), but she doesn't handle underwritten roles quite as well as she should, and I have yet to be really blown away by her as a dramatic actor (I wasn't wild about her in either Edge of Tomorrow or The Young Victoria, her too most lauded serious turns).  Kate is a character that, like Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men, we need to see a little bit more of the turn into the dark side and her descent to get a full picture of the movie, and that is missing in Sicario.

So all-in-all I'd put this more on the Prisoners side of things for Villeneuve in the "some great moments, some frustrating, but not a classic," though I will point out the that the film has yet to infuriate me in the same way that the Hugh Jackman picture did.  What are your thoughts?  Do you feel that Sicario is one of Villeneuve's better pictures?  Do you think it has a chance with Oscar?  Do you think the sequel idea is as stupid as I do since it would give too much information regarding del Toro's Alejandro?  And what role do you think will finally make Emily Blunt live up to the potential she exhibited in The Devil Wears Prada? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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