Cannes Review: 'Sicario' is a Fascinating Commentary on Violence
by Marco Cerritos
May 24, 2015
Reporting from the Cannes Film Festival. Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve is quickly becoming a crucial voice in cinema, crafting human stories of immense power and durability. His one-two-three punch of Incendies, Prisoners and Enemy has been enough to get him noticed in film-savvy circles, but his latest film Sicario may be his best work to date. It's a bleak drug-trade thriller on the surface but deep down it's really a dense character study with comments on the violence in this modern world. It's in the same ballpark as other modern commentaries like Traffic and Zero Dark Thirty but with its own unique flavor.
Emily Blunt dominates the film as Kate Macer, an FBI agent with a tough exterior in a male dominated field. When we're first introduced to her she's just discovered a gruesome find tied to a major drug cartel operating on both sides of the U.S.A./Mexico border. Hungry for a new assignment, she uses this as an opportunity to pair up with the enigmatic Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin) to take down the dangerous cartel. Even though they're technically on the same side, it's obvious from their initial meeting that Matt's not to be fully trusted. He deliberately hides crucial information from Kate and also introduces the group to the equally mysterious Alejandro (played by Benicio Del Toro), a cartel hitman who has plans of his own.
We're told early that "sicario" is cartel slang for hitman and while Alejandro definitely fits that description, the title could also apply to many of the film's characters. This is a movie where everyone operates in a shade of grey and while the film's plot may be dense it's also easy to follow if you're paying attention. Kate is our protagonist and she may start out as a rookie but by the final act things will be very different for her. That kind of character transition isn't easy to sell in a two-hour movie but Blunt is more than up to the challenge. She does more with a simple stare than most actors do with an entire performance, completely reflecting her character's tough edge. Equally effective are Del Toro and Brolin whose characters are also drenched in ambiguity, giving the film and its politics no easy answers. In fact, for Del Toro this is really the first time since Traffic that he's been let loose and allowed to get lost in a performance. I know he also played a cartel enforcer in Savages recently but that performance is a complete 180 from his work here.
Sicario is not the disposable and mainstream crime thriller most might expect but something much greater and profound. Villeneuve uses his camera in interesting ways and creates tension from unexpected places, whether it's a tight close-up or a traffic jam. Once again pairing with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, Sicario looks amazing and pops off the screen with bright colors and seedy locales. All of this along with the aforementioned lead performances not only make Sicario one of the top selections at the Cannes Film Festival, but also one of the best films of the year period.
Marco's Cannes 2015 Rating: A
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Reader Feedback - 8 Comments
Sounds like a real tour de force film. Looking forward to checking it out! // Thanks Marco.
DAVIDPD on May 24, 2015
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WalterMSargent on May 25, 2015
every movie of villeneuve is outstanding and my personal favorite is incendies,it just blew me away... I am so glad he is doing blade runner,it's the best choice ever!
ari smulders on May 25, 2015
Yea, I just watched Incendies a few weeks ago and liked it a great deal. Very, very heavy movie. Never been able to get into Prisoners though as I'm not a big fan of either of the two lead actors. As far as the next Blade Runner thing, I don't know. It's pretty hard to mine for gold in the same place as such an incredible film as the original Blade Runner was. It depends on a lot of different things like story, the script, the casting. I don't have high hopes for this next one.
Bo on May 25, 2015
Prisoners wasn't also not my cup of tea, but it was above average in his genre. Incendies I saw in the same week as amos perros (I had a intellectual week) and with inneratu is Villeneuve the best what Hollywood has to offer. That says:nothing beats mad max Fury Road! Blade runner is lying very close to my heart because it's indeed the sience fiction classic together with aliens (and there are people who say Scott is a turd???) but if someone can do it its Villeneuve. He is intelligent enough to not make it to intellectual and not to dumb. As far as Gyllenhaal and Jackman, both I like with Gyllenhaal as the best of them two. In fact now I think of it, maybe is Gyllenhaal one a actors who gets me to a cinema, besides (and forgive me) brad Pitt. I think they both have the gift to change a entire movie by cheer presence... Please correct me if my spelling is not correct otherwise everything above has less impact 🙂
ari smulders on May 25, 2015
We seem to be in agreement on many films, etc. And hey, I really like Brad Pitt. Always have, but I part company with you on Gyllenhall. It's not that I dislike him, like I do Jackman, I just don't have an interest one way or the other in him. I'll reserve further judgment on Villeneuve's work until after I see this film, Sicario, of his. I very much like the cast. Especially Emily Blunt. I met her a while ago in a Bed and Bath here in L.A. and had a nice 10 min. chat with her. She is quite good and along with the two actors this film is of interest to me. So I'll reserve my thoughts on what Villeneuve will do with another Blade Runner movie, but as I've said, I've not much hope. The original was just way to good to attempt to duplicate its success in my opinion. It's playing with fire. Let it alone. I will not correct you on your spelling or anything else, sorry. It's all fine and I get what you're expressing.
Bo on May 26, 2015
I only hope that you Agree with me that villeuneve is one of the few who can pull it of. But it stays a hell of a job, for sure. The strangest thing is that female actors never have my attention and I will never go to a movie who a big female big name in it. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate what they are doing, but I never seen a memorable scene of one with boobies! And when I do it are TV shows, but cinema noop! Now I writing this I remember Ripley, so my arguments are not always valid, but I find it hard to watch female driven movies...
ari smulders on May 26, 2015
Excellent blog post ! I was fascinated by the points ! Does someone know where I might get a fillable a form copy to edit ?
4LiPellegrini on Apr 13, 2016
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