Director Dennis Villeneuve is fast creating a reputation as the best director of character-driven action.
On the back of PRISONERS, his excellent family crisis drama which, like this year’s THE GIFT (one of my choices of the films of 2015 and highly recommended) had sufficient pathos and power to hold the audience’s attention, SICARIO (Cert. 15, 121 mins) will do much to enhance his stock. The knowledge that he will be directing the much-anticipated sequel to BLADE RUNNER provides an interesting, mouth-watering prospect.
Until Deckard returns, we can content ourselves with a much-hyped thriller which follows the path created with the likes of CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (the Harrison Ford Jack Ryan thriller from 1994, in which covert operatives working in South America are the pawns of a broad political tug-of-war)
SICARIO is presented in contrast with a leaner narrative and that makes the film that all the more powerful.
It certainly starts as it means to go on with a dynamic opening where FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is leading an assault on an Arizona home and makes a shocking discovery. This is the first point of a very complex and dark tale where inevitably the lines of morality and honesty begin to blur in increasingly awkward circumstances for Blunt’s feisty, determined agent.
The mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Enrique Serrano, where some of the action takes place, has recently called for a boycott of the film, saying that the portrayal of the city “speaks badly.”
It’s not a new argument – the same kind of backlash greeted Brian De Palma’s remake of SCARFACE (1983) about the portrayal of Miami in that context (in all fairness that film, as time has gone on, has become a real classic of it’s kind) and I sense that SICARIO in time will get the same kind of respect and appreciation in cinematic terms.
Personally, I am not someone to get involved with how a film portrays a community. In all fairness, the issue the Mayor above highlights only takes up a fraction of the screen time and the focus is on how it affects the American community, rather than the portrayal it creates of a Mexican city rebuilding. The truth is that those images are real and do hit home the impact that drugs can have on a community (just recently, for example, the London Evening Standard ran a series of articles about a crime-laden neighbourhood called Angell Town and the positive steps being taken to rebuild it by the commuity within)
I do hope that the Mayor of Ciudad Juarez retracts his negative opinion and treats the film as an entertainment foremost. SICARIO will not really dent that, as it is the latest in a long line of films that are covering an all-familiar ground in movies, personified in any number of exploitation actioners and Hollywood blockbusters from 30 years ago. The way the story is told is a little different – and perhaps that is what has irked him.
Whilst Blunt acquits herself admirably, it is Josh Brolin and – more significantly – Benicio Del Toro, who steal the show as her guides and chaperones. Del Toro really demonstrates his consistency in this type of role.
From a technical standpoint, it is Roger Deakins who confirms his reputation as one of the best cinematographers in the business. There are some excellent shots and vistas rendered here which elevate SICARIO to an above-average offering of the genre.