Tuesday, October 6, 2015

In Theaters: SICARIO (2015)

(US - 2015)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Written by Taylor Sheridan. Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Daniel Kaluuya, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Maximiliano Hernandez, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo P. Saracino, Edgar Arreola, Boots Southerland, Adam Taylor, Eb Lottimer. (R, 121 mins)

A dark and harrowing drug trafficking thriller that's still rather simplistic at its core, SICARIO is nonetheless a gripping and hard-hitting experience. In a horrifying opening sequence, an FBI raid on a Glendale, AZ house near the US/Mexico border results in the discovery of no drugs but 42 dead bodies hidden in the walls. Idealistic agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is lauded for her work in the raid and offered a spot on a task force overseen by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), the kind of character whose easy-going, smart-ass demeanor and dress casual look, complete with baggy khakis and flip-flops when everyone else is wearing suits, provides a nice-guy cover for a not-very-nice guy. A divorced loner with no children and nothing in her life other than her job, Macer is the perfect candidate, though it doesn't take her long to conclude that Graver is running some kind of off-the-books black-ops unit. That's confirmed once they're joined by Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a man of few words who comes from Colombia but "goes where he's needed." Alejandro's instincts and skills come into play at a traffic jam massacre at the border when the unit returns from an illegal run into Juarez to pick up Guillermo (Edgar Arreola), an associate of cartel boss Fausto Alarcon (Julio Cesar Cedillo). The more questions Macer asks, the more evasive Graver and Alejandro are, and she gets no answers from her own boss (Victor Garber). As Graver's operations put her at greater risk and the ruthless Alejandro seems to be addressing his own personal agenda, Macer is pulled into a moral and ethical quagmire that puts her career and her life at risk.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, who's no stranger to moral and ethical quagmires with 2013's PRISONERS, and written by former SONS OF ANARCHY co-star Taylor Sheridan (he played Deputy Hale before being killed off in the third season premiere), SICARIO takes place in a world where everything is a gray area and the law is circumvented if it serves the greater good, which is why Macer's partner and seemingly only friend Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), an Iraq War vet with a law degree, is purposefully kept at a distance by Graver. There's been some comparisons made between Macer and Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and it's a good analogy, especially in the way both films are seen through the POV of a strong, independent woman with something to prove in a male-dominated field that constantly underestimates her. It's also worth mentioning that both Foster and Blunt get their thunder stolen to a certain extent by the showier performance of a co-star with much less screen time, with Blunt's Anthony Hopkins being Del Toro as Alejandro, the mysterious angel of vengeance, a former cartel figure who lost his entire family and goes wherever his quest for revenge takes him. His allegiances are suspect and he won't hesitate to put a bullet in anyone who tries to stop him, but Graver is happy to have him along in an "enemy of my enemy is my friend" sort-of way. Del Toro keeps things pretty low-key throughout, never hamming but going for a less-is-more approach that makes Alejandro, the title character ("sicario" meaning "hitman"), utterly terrifying. While Macer is the central character, it's Alejandro who leaves the biggest impression, apparently on the filmmakers as well, as Blunt sits out most of the last 1/4 of the film as the focus shifts to Alejandro and his quest to find and execute Alarcon. It's a jarring move to make 90 minutes into a two-hour film, especially one that's been seen through Macer's eyes to that point, and it makes one wonder if that shift was in Sheridan's script or if it was a change that came about during the editing stage.

Boasting outstanding cinematography by the great Roger Deakins and with an effectively droning, tense score by Johann Johannsson, SICARIO works best in its crackling, edge-of-your-set set pieces like the opening sequence and the border shootout, and then later when a marvelously understated Del Toro takes center stage, his silent glare speaking volumes. Despite all the social, econimic, and legal issue lip service, SICARIO isn't as profound as some are making it out to be and is still largely a revenge saga, albeit a very well-made and intense one. It's a promising screenwriting debut for Sheridan, who directed a late-to-the-party SAW knockoff called VILE a few years back, right after he left SONS OF ANARCHY. VILE is one of the absolute worst horror movies you'll ever see and one couldn't blame Sheridan if he tried to distance himself from it now that SICARIO is earning worldwide accolades. Oh, wait...that's exactly what happened. In recent months, VILE has been removed from Sheridan's IMDb page by someone, and now is the lone credit on the page of a "Taylor Sheridan (IV)." Come on, Mr. Sheridan. You made a shitty movie before you were instrumental in the making of a very praised one. Just own it. Google "Taylor Sheridan Vile" and the ruse is exposed. You don't see James Cameron running away from PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING, do you?  Do you see George Clooney sticking his fingers in his ears and yelling "La-la-la can't hear you!" at the mention of RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES? You really think you're gonna just pretend VILE never happened?

Not on my watch.

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