Wednesday, 7 October 2015


I've got my eye on Denis Villeneuve. Prisoners may have been overcooked nonsense but it was, at least, enjoyable and stunningly-shot overcooked nonsense, and Enemy is a lip-smackingly atmospheric oddity that proved Villeneuve's versatility (at least to me: I haven't seen his Oscar-nommed Incendies, or indeed anything else he made before that, which means you have every right to ignore my stupid uneducated opinion.) But with a Harrison Ford / Ryan Gosling-starring Blade Runner sequel in the post, Villeneuve is officially One To Watch, and Sicario - on the face of it - should be his chance to prove himself a master of the exciting and intelligent cinematic experience.

By and large, he succeeds: Sicario is immensely watchable, without a bum note among its lead performances and a couple of genuinely thrilling set-pieces. It's also, like Prisoners, shot beautifully by that film's DP and certified god amongst men Roger Deakins, and Villeneuve knows exactly where to stick his camera to achieve optimum audience involvement in any given scene. When all's said and done though, anyone who's seen Zero Dark Thirty - and many who haven't - are likely to feel like some pretty familiar ground is being trodden here.

Emily Blunt takes our hand and gives us an idealistic but steely FBI agent's look at the murky world of government-sanctioned black ops, specifically one that involves taking down a Mexican drug cartel via some morally and ethically barren methods. As always, she's brilliant, and her character successfully avoids any accusations of tokenism as the only woman in a testosterone-soaked world of drug dealers and hairy, bantz-loving SWAT teams. She tags along at the request of Josh Brolin's Dudish (as in Lebowski) special agent, and is uncomfortable with the inclusion in the team of Colombian "adviser" Alejandro, played by Benicio del Toro as a hollowed-out former human being whose troubled and mysterious past is carved into every line on his face, of which there are many. Lines, that is, not faces. Although you could argue there are more than one of those too.
Villeneuve knows exactly which buttons to press to drag you into his world, and one of those buttons is very clearly labelled "DEAKINS". The cinematography here is alternately spectacular and prosaic, often when you least expect it, and a late scene utilising thermal imaging and night vision is enormous fun even though Villeneuve hasn't fully explained exactly what's meant to be going on. His other big button is marked "JĂ“HANSSON", and Sicario's score composer employs pulsing beats and atonal honking to unnerving effect.

Aside from one clunkily-executed plot device involving a colourful wristband, Villeneuve does a great job of balancing intelligent political intrigue with Friday night thrills, and as such Sicario is a massively entertaining watch. However, the naive young officer surprised by the complexity and darkness of international sub-radar operations is a well-worn story, and the similarities to Kathryn Bigelow's 2013 bin Laden-buster are almost excruciatingly clear in several scenes. Sicario is arguably a more satisfying night out, but that doesn't necessarily make it a better film. Like the characters of both movies, history will eventually judge who got it right.

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