Review: SICARIO (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 14 September 2015

Review: SICARIO (2015)

SICARIO is gripping and technically impressive, if heavy-handed crime thriller.

In 2013, PRISONERS wasn't just the best movie I've even seen during that year. It was also among the best kidnapping drama ever made in recent memory. Two years later, French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve returned with another solid effort in SICARIO. Prior to the cinema release, his latest movie had already gained momentum at the recent Cannes Film Festival, where Villeneuve was nominated for the coveted Palme d'Or (which eventually went to Jacques Audiard's refugee drama DHEEPAN).


SICARIO -- which means "hitman" in Spanish -- centred on ambitious FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), who volunteers to join a special task force led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). Together with a mysterious operative known only as Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), their mission is to take down a notorious drug lord in the US-Mexico border.


From minute one, SICARIO already had my attention with Johann Johannsson's Hans Zimmer-like drone-heavy score. In fact, that score alone is more than enough to evoke a sense of foreboding dread lingering into my mind. All this is made possible even before I get to see the first frame of the movie.

Meanwhile, Villeneuve's taut direction is evident from the Arizona-set opening raid itself. He doesn't hold back when comes to stark and graphic imagery. Whether it was the stomach-churning sight of dead corpses piled within the suburban Arizona home or the naked mutilated bodies hang upside down below the overpass, Villeneuve clearly wanted to depict the uncompromising side of the US-Mexican drug war. Even the gore and violence displays are not spared. There's a certain level of visceral impact whenever a character gets shot by gunfire. But at the same time, Villeneuve doesn't glamourise the act of violence. Most of the action sequences here are sparse, but effective enough without the need of unleashing them into full-on typical Hollywood mode.

But none of these arresting set piece would work well, if not for Roger Deakins' remarkable lensing. Deakins, who previously collaborated with Villeneuve in PRISONERS, has again delivered a fruitful result. Upon watching this movie in the cinema, I was amazed by Deakins' widescreen cinematography. The picture looks crisp and mesmerising, particularly the way he shoots the aerial view of the seedy Mexico landscapes. Then there's the fascinating visual captured through night vision towards the end of the movie.

Typically, a gritty crime thriller like SICARIO would have centred from the man's point-of-view. However, this is one of those rare movies where the female character becomes the major focal point. In SICARIO, the story is almost told from the perspective of Kate Macer as well as the way she has to endure coping with Matt Graver and Alejandro's unorthodox tactics. Such performance is never an easy task, and yet Emily Blunt manages to pull off as a tough but naive FBI agent trapped in the uncertainty of her volunteered mission.   

The rest of the cast is equally solid. Josh Brolin's laid-back portrayal as the special task force's team leader offers a refreshing change of pace from your usual no-nonsense stereotype. Despite playing a minor role, Daniel Kaluuya provides a strong support as Kate's partner.

Still, it was Benicio Del Toro that impresses me the most. He brings layered complexity to his enigmatic character with deceptively quiet and steely demeanour, as we gradually learn his ulterior motive throughout the movie. No doubt this is easily his finest performance in years since winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for TRAFFIC (2000).


Of all the number of Villeneuve's expertly-staged set piece, this particular scene struck me the most: an elaborate sequence that follows the US law enforcers travel through the rough neighbourhoods of Juarez to transport a precious prisoner, before they cross over the traffic-heavy border and ends up with a tense shootout.


SICARIO is not without flaw. Taylor Sheridan's first-time screenplay suffers from excessive weight. A brief subplot involving a Mexican police officer named Silvio (Maximiliano Hernandez) and his mundane life at home is more of an unnecessary filler. His eventual role does play a significant importance towards the climactic finale, but I still find his subplot detracts the otherwise sustained pace of the movie.


Despite its minor shortcoming, SICARIO remains a well-crafted crime thriller worthy of its pre-release hype. With impressive cast and strong technical skills, this is the kind of movie that deserved Oscar attention.

* This review is written courtesy from TGV press screening *

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