Sicario (2015)

Well, THAT didn’t exactly go according to plan. ‘Spectre’. THAT was The Plan. Today was supposed to be ‘Spectre’ Day; the day I get to see the new Bond flick that opened just this last Friday, having made $73 million dollars Domestic, at the time of this writing. I even watched ‘Skyfall’ this morning over coffee, to prep for a fresh and clean comparison of the two Sam Mendes ‘James Bond’ flicks. I put my tasty, unnecessarily sugary / salty snacks into my Smuggling Bag, and headed over to our nearby theatre. I sauntered into the lobby, all psyched about a new, REALLY high-budget spy movie adventure…and then I went to pick my Reserved Seating. Yea…pretty much completely full. Every time I went to pick an ‘off on it’s own’ seat, the goddamn computer would tell me that it couldn’t be done. The next show was an hour later and I had no intention of loitering around the Skytrain / Mall that the movie theatre lives in till then. So I looked at what else was playing. ‘Sicario’ leaped out at me right away. I’d toyed with the idea of checking this one out a couple weeks ago…but it didn’t happen, for reasons I don’t recall. I’d read many a positive word about this title, and the well-rounded and accomplished cast was intriguing. The previous films by this Quebec-born director, Denis Villeneuve, also came with solid ‘word of mouth’, and I’ve now elevated ‘Prisoners’ (2013) and ‘Enemy’ (2013) on my Must See list. So, I chose the next showing.
I love the feeling of childlike wonder and excitement I get when I walk into an empty, or near empty theatre. It harkens back to my early years as a Film Nerd in the ‘game changing’ 1980’s, and as a result, is also fueled by a good dose of saccharine nostalgia. I love being able to stretch out in the dark and not worry about elbows and feet everywhere too. Like I can pretend it’s a huge private show, just for Yours Truly. I got that feeling again today. Obviously I was being moronically naive about how ‘Spectre’ was going to go…with me strolling on in 15 minutes to ‘Showtime’, thinking “It’s a grey Sunday, mid-day. NO ONE will be interested in checking out the latest British Super Spy escapist adventure. I’ll have my pick of comfy seats and it’ll be Action / Adventure bliss for the next two hours.” Pfft! Yeah…not really. So I sat my ass down in the quiet and empty theatre, tucked into my bag of Maynards jelly candies, and let ‘Sicario’ ‘suspense’ and thrill the living shit out of me for two hours.
‘Sicario’ (meaning ‘hitman’) introduces us to ‘Kate’ (Emily Blunt) and her plucky black partner ‘Reggie’ (Daniel Kaluuya), both part of an elite Hostage Rescue team with the FBI. After a particularly nasty ‘take down’ of a targeted border-town Kidnapper Safe House (involving the vomit-inducing discovery of a disgusting secret literally within the walls), and a deadly, out-of-the-blue bomb blast on site, ‘Kate’ finds herself linked to a clandestine, multi-agency task force hell-bent on very loudly taking the fight to the violent drug cartels across the border in Mexico. The team of military special forces, Federal Marshals, FBI and (possibly) CIA are led by the laid back, but determined ‘Matt Graver’ (Josh Brolin), and the mysterious and deadly ‘Alejandro’ (Benicio Del Toro). Neither men openly claim allegiance to any one agency, but are listened to and respected by the ‘higher-ups’. As the bloody pursuit of the cartel members escalates, ‘Kate’ finds herself getting deeper and deeper into uncertain and potentially lethal territory as she pushes forward with the group.
The turn of events, where my original movie plans for the day were concerned, turned out to be a good thing…as this was a solidly-crafted, surprisingly gritty and suspenseful flick! Several times, I caught myself physically tensed up during a couple of the ‘lead ups to action’, and when the ‘boiling point’ in a scene was hit, the ensuing action that burst loudly and bloodily across the screen was well worth it.
What helps the patient-yet-quick pace and multi-faceted narrative is the choices that Villeneuve made with his cast. Much like she did in the underrated ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (2014), Emily Blunt plays a bad-ass female character who also just happens to be a human, with flaws, doubts and desires. Even though we’re not given a hugely detailed back-story for ‘Kate’, Blunt made her a strong and sympathetic character that had enough ‘real’ to make me root for her as she capably twisted and turned through the dangerous world she found herself caught up in. Josh Brolin (‘The Goonies’), as usual, was great. His ‘spook’ character ‘Graver’ was interestingly-layered, with his tendency to keep things casual in the office (his beach-bum sandals spoke volumes there), yet when the shit hit the fan, he waded in with guns blazing. He could easily be lumped into the ‘firm but fair’ character category. Lurking in the peripherals (until the 3rd Act) was Del Toro’s ‘Alejandro’. This intense dude was REALLY interesting, as we learn that he was a former prosecutor in Colombia, who lost his wife and daughter to the cartels in sickening and terrible ways. Since then, he’s become intensely effective as an ‘operator’ against the drug barons, and has no qualms withdrawing mercy, in order to get the grim job done…according to his own vengeance-based ‘code’. There’s a shocking scene in Act 3 that REALLY punched this idea home, with the character showing more ‘teeth’ than I’d been expecting, when he gets close to his Ultimate Bad Guy. I was surprised that the film had the balls to go THAT far, but then again, the overall tone and vicious streak that had run through the story up to that point really had primed me to expect…well…anything.
Having seen this in the theatre, I can say that I now have a little more faith in the entirely unnecessary Blade Runner Sequel that Villeneuve and renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins (‘Skyfall’) are going to be apparently tackling next. Much of the cinematography here was absolutely gorgeous and at times, I was reminded of David Fincher’s ‘look’, in particular, ‘Se7en’ (1995) and ‘The Game’ (1997). I loved the use of WIDE aerial shots used for showing travel between scenes. There was one that was nothing more than a long tracking shot facing the ground, as we see the small shadow of the corporate jet ‘we’ are attached to the bottom of slide over the rocks far below. It was so simple…but so pretty! There’s lots of THAT in this one…lots of ‘pretty’. Several scenes take place at dusk, and the lighting is slick and natural-feeling, with nothing more than a streak of pink and orange splashed across the horizon in the distance. Most directors want to use Magic Hour (6-8pm, depending where you are), where you get that sexy orange glow from the dipping sun to paint the scene gold, but here, whether by design or by accident, Villeneuve had these scenes play out immediately AFTER ‘Magic Hour’…and he made it work to very cool effect.
The Music was awesome and really went a long way to drive the tension home during several key scenes. There’s almost a ‘foghorn’ motif to the suspense score; the simplicity and ‘low-end’ adding a near-subliminal ‘creep’ factor to everything. Very effective.
Something else that was effective was the Hard ‘R’ violence that peppered the story. Don’t get me wrong…’Sicario’ is a violent flick dealing with a violent subject. These days, Action Movies often take the easy way out and use CG blood for their action scenes. Not here…or at least not that I could tell. It was blood packs galore and it was great!…what with all the crimson sprayed across shattered glass and bullet-punched walls! Yes, yes…violence IS bad!…in Real Life. But here it was gritty and gory ‘fantasy’ violence that intelligent adults could handle…and just happened to look pretty convincing.
Something else that was handled realistically was the Sound Design. Everything was immaculately planned and executed, sound-wise. The ambient elements made the settings feel tangible, while the gunfire and explosions had some serious ‘Ooomph!’ to them.
If I had to dredge up a Negative, there was a sub-plot involving a crooked cop in Juarez, Mexico that didn’t feel entirely necessary. I appreciated the attempt to show both sides of the conflict, but the character in question was interchangeable with any of the other cartel goons that show up to get gunned down, and could’ve easily been dropped from the narrative without really affecting the overall plot. That being said, there’s an effective ‘stinger’ just before the credits that contemplatively wraps up that characters thin arc…while hinting at a larger ‘reality’.
All in all, ‘Sicario’ turned out to be as good as the other reviewers had proclaimed, and it was an alternative to ‘Spectre’ that I’m happy I was given the chance indulge in. The film has a compelling and tense story, engrossing characters, beautiful cinematography, slickly-shot and edited action scenes, deservedly ‘R’ rated violence and content, more suspense than I was expecting, and VERY tonally-appropriate music that gave the effective tension laced throughout a creepy ‘flavor’. Aside from the needless (but not awful) ‘Crooked Cop’ sub-plot, I was intrigued and sucked in for the entire 121 minute run-time. The movie looks great and on that level alone, I’d easily recommend it for a Theatre Viewing…but the story and performances are solid too. If you don’t see it at the cinema…by sure to check out ‘Sicario’ on Home Release. It’s a good one.

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