At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Sicario “2015”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Sicario “2015”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Action Thriller/Stars: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo Saracino, Maximiliano Hernández, Edgar Arreola/Runtime: 121 minutes

I think it’s safe to start this review off by saying that it would not surprise me in the least if the world of cinema has managed to get to a point where you can just see a glimpse of a film, be it in edited form on TV or in all its glory on streaming or home media, and say with the same amount of pride as we would if it was one being helmed by Spielberg or Scorsese to name but a couple of examples “Is that a movie from Denis Villeneuve?” For those who are might be scratching their heads and saying with confusion “who?” please allow me to take a moment to shed a little light on this subject. Denis Villeneuve is a director who may be more known for his work on such films as the recent Dune or Blade Runner 2049, but who has also given audiences films such as 2013’s Prisoners where we see that he is a helmer who is blessed with having no fear in immersing us in content that might be a bit of a hard pill for some to stomach. Yet whereas some filmmakers might choose to make things easier whilst doing so, Villeneuve is the kind of director who wants to be as uneasy and/or uncomfortable as possible whilst watching the stories he chooses to tell. Not because he’s a sadist who derives pleasure from watching his audience squirm or suffer mind you, but because what he is showing you is true to how it is in the world around us whether we care to admit this out loud or not. Yet as brilliantly as he showcased this in Prisoners with his gripping yet bleak look at child abduction and the extreme yet understandable, questionable legality aside, lengths a parent might go to in order to find their child, I feel that it is his 2015 slice of cinema, and film I am reviewing for you today incidentally, Sicario that manages to showcase such bleakness on a level he hadn’t shown us before or even since though there are some pretty potent moments to be found in both the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049 and Dune. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that might be a taut and gripping thrill ride, but which also proves to be quite brutal and unyielding in how it showcases for us the war on drugs and the reality that, despite what we may think, there is no easy, let alone 120% moral, answers to be found in how best to combat it. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinema might not be for everyone, but with the aid of potent work on both sides of the camera there is no denying that Sicario truly is a hard hitting and riveting slice of cinema that will definitely entertain you whilst also leaving you with something to most assuredly think about be it your 1st or 61st time watching it.

The plot is as follows: Taking us all the way out to the desolate locale of Chandler in the state of Arizona, Sicario gets its riveting narrative underway at a place that a lot of other slices of cinema might consider to be the ending. That being as a witness to a raid headed by a SWAT team and led by a skilled member of that distinct law enforcement group known as the FBI by the name of Kate Mercer with the subject of said raid being a seemingly ordinary home in a seemingly ordinary housing division. Yet this is no ordinary home; a fact made especially clear not only courtesy of the men with guns who respond when these agents come crashing in, but also by the discovery of no less than 42 bodies tucked away within the walls and each of them in some way headed to the Great Hereafter if you catch my drift. We soon learn that this home is actually a safe house of sorts for no less an organization than the infamous Sonora drug cartel. A fact made explosively clear when some of the local cops who helped out on the raid find themselves falling prey to a horrific booby trap placed outside under the door of a locked shed. At any rate, we soon see that, during the debriefing for the op back at FBI HQ in Phoenix, Kate’s leadership and skills manage to bring her to the attention of higher-ups at the Bureau who present her with an intriguing offer. That being in the form of an invite to take part in a specialized task force led by an affable yet mysterious government agent named Matt Graver and has, among its members, an enigmatic yet highly skilled individual named Alejandro Gillick. We soon learn that the mission the task force has been saddled with isn’t just to respond to the cartel for the bodies in the safe house and the booby trap outside among other horrific incidents, but rather to draw out and apprehend those the United States government views as being really responsible with the key name on the list being one Manuel Diaz. Suffice it to say that we see, due to a combination of initiative and desire to actually make a meaningful impact, that our heroine decides to take part in the task force. It isn’t long into her time with the task force however that we, along with Kate, discover something important. That being that although the goal of the group is what she was told, their methods for achieving said goal might be at best shady and at worst downright illegal. Thus with her limits from both a moral and professional perspective finding themselves being put to the test can our heroine stay on the “right side of things” or is she about to learn a very important lesson about what it takes to truly catch some of the more frightening monsters out there? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader….

Now right off, it is worth pointing out that the work done behind the camera on this slice of cinema is top-flight in every sense of the word. This starts with the phenomenal work done by film helmer Denis Villeneuve at the helm and I think it can safely be said that a fairly significant portion of how much you enjoy this movie might just come down to the components of this brilliant director’s helmsmanship that you appreciate. To be sure, this is a slice of cinema that doesn’t get even remotely close to the level of surreal that either Arrival or Blade Runner 2049 did so if that’s your particular speed then be prepared to be disappointed. If however, you are someone who loves when this guy is willing to give audiences a fairly straightforward yet taut and bleak as all get out saga in the vein of something like 2013’s Prisoners then you are going to find quite a bit to enjoy here. Perhaps the most significant example of that on display is in how he and the equally as incredible cinematographer Roger Deakins manage to conjure up for us a locale that is equal parts perilous yet gorgeous to behold be it an aerial look of Juarez showcasing a fierce set of gun battles silhouetted against the coming of the night, or a night-vision filtered look at a group of agents making their way underground and being immersed in the darkness that is all around them. Indeed not only does it feel like you are right there seeing all of this unfurl before you, but the shots themselves are downright, albeit hauntingly, gorgeous. We also see that Villeneuve also has a terrific sense of how to give us a truly engaging action beat as well with perhaps the best example of this being a scene during the movie where we, alongside Kate, find ourselves riding along with the task force straight into the heart of Juarez for an exfil. I mean with how the editing and this slice of cinema’s ominous yet riveting musical accompaniment are going during this moment we are under the impression that we’re about to see the director give us a riveting car chase. Instead though, we see that he makes the brilliant choice to have the pick-up go as planned…..only to then have the team get stuck in traffic and boxed in on all sides. As a result, not only is the film able to throw you for a serious curve, but it is also able to raise the suspense exponentially due to you now being in unfamiliar territory for a film of this ilk and having no idea how it is going to play out. Likewise, we see that Villeneuve also does a fantastic job with some of the scenes where gun violence comes into play. Yes, this film has no reservations about getting visceral and brutal (especially with del Toro giving a guy perhaps one of the gnarliest wet willies I have ever seen), but Villeneuve and the crew also do a great job at making sure that in some moments it’s not about what you see, but rather about how the characters in that scene respond to what is done that can really make the desired impact. Finally, it should be noted that although this film’s script can get too depressing at times to say nothing of really not give a lot of dimension to the supporting characters it still manages to make for an impactfully pessimistic look at the war on drugs and the methods that must be engaged in should we wish to have even a fighting chance to win it.

Of course, it should also come as no surprise to learn that the other big element that helps to work in this slice of cinema’s favor would undoubtedly have to be the incredible performances given by the skilled cast of players in front of the camera as well. This starts with Emily Blunt and she is nothing short of remarkable. Indeed in the role of Kate Mercer, Blunt does a remarkable job at bringing a wonderful degree of both intelligence and conviction to the “eyes of the audience” part in this film as she not only tries to get to the bottom of what is actually going on, but also if the ends that Matt and Alejandro are after are justifiable by the fairly ethically shaky methods that they utilize in order to acquire it. Besides the work done by Blunt however, this slice of cinema also manages to give us an engaging turn from Josh Brolin as well. Indeed I have long enjoyed Brolin’s work as an actor and with his turn here as Matt Graver, Brolin is brilliant at playing this seemingly laid-back mystery government man who eventually reveals a skill in not only the art of deception, but also in sleazy despicability. Skills that not only makes this a character you quickly love to hate, but also one that makes it quite clear that, for as bad as the cartels are, there might be some agents combating them within U.S. government who might be just as bad if not slightly worse in terms of their methods. Rounding out this top-flight trio of performances is Benicio del Toro and this is a genuinely next-level performance he is giving here. Indeed I am very much aware that this truly talented performer is one amongst a select group of performers who can honestly say that he has been given the opportunity to play characters on both sides of the drug conflict in regards to his roles in Traffic and Savages from 2000 and 2012 respectively. Yet unlike his characters in those aforementioned examples, I can safely say that the character of Alejandro in this slice of cinema is one that is definitely more complex and three-dimensional. To be sure, Alejandro is a ruthless, clinical, driven, stoic, and very much locked-in individual who has many qualities in common less with an everyday individual and more so with a big game hunter patiently waiting for his prey to walk into his sights so he can put them down once and for all. At the same time though, this is also a man who shivers whilst asleep and even shows off glimpses of a banged-up, but still present decency at surprising moments throughout the film. Suffice it to say that it is a very intriguing and enigmatic turn from an always fascinating actor who has consistently given us as moviegoers his fair share of iconic performances and then some. Thus I think it’s safe to say that when you also manage to incorporate winning efforts from such screen talents as Jeffrey Donovan (who I am pretty sure you could make a solid argument is reprising his role of Michael Westen here thus making this an unofficial prequel of sorts to the fantastic TV show Burn Notice), Raoul Trujillo, Victor Garber, Daniel Kaluuya, and a small yet pivotal role from the always engaging Jon Bernthal among others I think it can safely be said that for any issues that this slice of cinema manages to have the work done by this phenomenally talented group is by no means one of them.

All in all and at the end of the day, is the 2015 slice of cinema Sicario a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination? Sadly no though not for lack of effort I feel compelled to add. At the same time though, is this the worst cinematic effort since del Toro did a Christopher Columbus movie with Marlon Brando and Tom Selleck, Emily Blunt lent her voice talents to Sherlock Gnomes, or Josh Brolin thought remaking the iconic South Korean film Oldboy was a good idea? Thankfully I can definitely say that is most assuredly not the case though in the case of at least two of those that’s not exactly the most difficult hurdle to overcome by any stretch because those two efforts were absolute garbage in every sense of the word. All sarcastic comments aside dear reader, there is no denying that this slice of cinema is one that might not be perfect, but it still is a riveting and tautly thrilling time to be had. Indeed the work done by the various groups behind the camera does a masterful job of taking you by the hand and leading you into a rather distinct world. That being one that, despite taking place in the world around us that we all know, still gives off the vibe of being quite unknown with more than the slightest hint of peril and danger around virtually every corner to say nothing of the stark realization that in this world there is no black or white to be found in terms of morality or even legality for that matter. Rather, there is only terrifyingly large block that is the shade of grey and in which all manner of activities can be conducted if doing so means keeping people off the streets who are either much worse at best or at worst are the stuff that true nightmares are made of. Besides that, we also are treated to phenomenal work in front of the camera by a game cast of performers who all in their own way journey through the aforementioned gray area with us whilst asking us to think upon their respective choices and actions throughout. Suffice it to say then that Sicario might not be the say-all, end-all for its respective genre of movie magic, but it is one that I can promise will leave you hooked from beginning to end to say nothing of actually leave you with something quite impactful and substantial to ponder upon. Not just during the time the movie is running, but for a long time after the screen has cut to black and the credits have begun to roll. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Sicario “2015” a solid 4 out of 5.