by Tony Johnson 10.08.2015 51 days ago
at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spoonful of Cinema: Sicario

You can feel it. Under the suspense, the action, the tension — fear. The fear of the unknown. The fear of death. The fear that you don’t amount to anything more than the dirt you tread on. The fear that your efforts to do what is right only contribute to the very evil you fight. The fear that you are horribly wrong. The fear that you are as alone as you think you are. This unrelenting fear bubbles viciously beneath the surface of Sicario, the crime-and-punishment thriller that brings our greatest nightmares to the Mexican border drug wars. Emily Blunt stars and shines as plays-it-by-the-book FBI Agent Kate Macer. When Kate is recruited by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to search for the men responsible for the killing of two police officers and dozens of immigrants, she agrees. But almost immediately, the motives behind the mission become less and less clear. A mysterious Colombian partner of Graver’s, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), is heavily involved in the operation, which troubles Kate, and she begins to wonder who she is really working for, who she is helping and who she is fighting against. Kate’s journey to Juarez and back and throughout the border is as tense as it gets. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) holds nothing back in keeping us on the edge of our seats, squeezing our sodas and shoving popcorn into our faces. Kate never seems safe. Alejandro barely seems human. Graver hardly seems genuine. If Sicario were a roller coaster, it would be in our best interest to buckle up and strap in. The story and visions that flash on the silver screen throughout Sicario are gritty and unnerving, fraught with uncertainty and discomfort. Villeneuve’s camera is unafraid to intrude upon our characters. We see every mark of desperate frustration on Kate’s face. We are thrust into a shootout in the middle of a traffic jam. We witness Alejandro’s interrogation methods. It isn’t pretty, but it makes for a strikingly suspenseful trip along the tracks of the Mexican drug cartel’s trade routes and the U.S. government’s efforts to mop up the mess. If a plot is only as good as the actors that bring it to life, it should be safe to say that there are no shortcomings with the players who provide the pulse of the story. Emily Blunt seems ready to take her place amongst Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson in the upper echelon of A-list Hollywood-actress badasses. She is as much as anyone can ask for as agent Kate Macer. We find ourselves rooting for Kate not only to survive, but also to find some legitimate meaning or purpose or silver lining to the work she has given herself to — even if we doubt that it may be there. She lays her life on the line, not without questions, but without a trace of cynicism. Blunt nails the character, creating an overwhelmed hero who pushes her private life aside for the sake of an idealistic pursuit of bringing those to justice who most require it. Blunt is supported by the macho pairing of Brolin and Del Toro, each in prime form. Brolin is spot-on as the ethically dismissive Graver. Rather than being up-front with Kate about their objectives, Graver keeps her in the dark, laughing off most of her concerns with country-boy quips and tasteless witticisms. Del Toro turns in an ice-cold performance. His commanding brevity accentuates the frozen stare he gives anyone and everyone, and there isn’t an ounce of trustworthiness to be found upon his face. Whether Alejandro’s loyalties exist or not is a total mystery, and the only thing that we are sure of with him is that he gives nothing up — he has no tells. Del Toro gives us a relentless portrayal of a man with nothing to lose, little to gain and motivations shrouded in stoic ruthlessness. But once the film finishes — once the curtain is drawn back and the gears of the murderous machinery are revealed — we are left feeling as hopeless as when we are oblivious to the inner workings of the border conflict at hand. There is no saving grace. No relief. No future. Only more of the same. More empty hands, more empty promises, more empty homes — all of which fuel the fire of the drug trade to grow stronger and more sure of itself with each passing day, week and military operation. With twists and turns throttling our sense of security along the way, Sicario eventually reaches its stunningly bleak conclusion with a sobering impression left on the audience. The notion is suggested that violence and war and vengeance are not chosen. They are evils that are learned, inherited and bestowed upon those unfortunate enough to experience the effects of the evil that they are afflicted with. They are a collective plague, a virus impossible to end — an epidemic unable to be curbed. War, violence, and betrayal never end. It only reimagines, redistributes, and recreates itself. Somewhere between the militaristic sabotage of Zero Dark Thirty and the desert-heated tension of No Country For Old Men, Sicario is a stunning knockout of a picture that pulls no punches, provides no apologies and leaves even the most romantic of all of us asking: Are there “good guys” anymore? And if there are, how different are they from the “bad guys” they’re after? Grade: A                                                                                                      

Gangster Squad

0 Comments · Wednesday, January 9, 2013
After a brief postponement from the fall — to edit a violent sequence in a movie theater — Gangster Squad, the 1940s and ’50s crime thriller from Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less) seeks a hostile takeover of the weekend box office.   

The Tillman Story (Review)

Documentary tells the tragic story of Pat Tillman

0 Comments · Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The Bush administration picked the wrong family of Northern Californian atheists to paint with its pro-war brush of "hero" propaganda. The administration's attempted cover-up of the April 22, 2004, "friendly fire" murder of former pro football player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan is dissected in damning detail in Amir Bar-Lev's revealing documentary, narrated by Josh Brolin. Grade: A-.  

Jonah Hex (Review)

Comic book adaptation is a boring ride to hell

0 Comments · Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin), the hero of this DC comic book adaptation, is a dark and wounded Civil War soldier turned bounty hunter with supernatural inclinations. Unfortunately, it lacks a dark unifying vision to set it apart and ends up quickly ignored and forgotten. Grade: D.  

Milk Still Matters

Director Gus Van Sant revisits the brief but vital life of Harvey Milk

0 Comments · Wednesday, December 10, 2008
There's no way one can view the new film 'Milk' without thinking about Proposition 8, the recently passed ballot initiative that bans same-sex marriages in California. In a strange and ironic parallel, Harvey Milk's crowning achievement, well documented in the film, was his battle against Proposition 6, which would have barred gay teachers from jobs in California public schools.  

Milk (Review)

Sean Penn shines as the Mayor of Castro Street

0 Comments · Wednesday, December 10, 2008
It seems director Gus Van Sant stands more than foursquare with the strays of the world. His career highlights include 'Drugstore Cowboy,' 'My Own Private Idaho' and 'Good Will Hunting.' So it should come as no surprise that the tragic story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), San Francisco's and the nation's first openly gay public official voted into office, might stir a sense of kinship in him.  

W. (Review)

Oliver Stone offers an effective, workmanlike telling of the George W. Bush story

0 Comments · Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Oliver Stone's unpolished but finely tuned biopic of Western Civilization's most controversial leader is a straight-ahead dramatized biographical film that pedals between George W. Bush's misspent youth and his days in public office. Josh Brolin is exceptional as Bush in a deeply personal portrayal of an ultimately tragic figure.