Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Sicario 2: Soldado (2018)

Image is property of Lionsgate

Sicario 2: Soldado – Film Review

Cast: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener, Isabela Moner

Director:  Stefano Sollima

Synopsis: As the drug war at the US-Mexico border rages on, and with the cartels now transporting terrorists across the border, the US government recruits Matt Graver (Brolin) and Alejandro (del Toro) to fuel tensions between rival cartels…

Review:  Every once in a while, a film comes along that is so gritty and grounded in terms of its execution, that you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a real life drama that was unfolding in front of you. One such film that falls into this category is 2015’s Sicario. The scope of this film focused on the battle on the drug trafficking across the US-Mexico border, and the murky boots-on-the-ground mission that ensued. It was a simple story, but one that was told magnificently through superb cinematography and directing, and a compelling lead performance from Emily Blunt.

So for this next mission, unfortunately all of those three aforementioned components are gone. Blunt’s Kate Macer is out of the picture and out go Denis Villenueve and Roger Deakins as director and cinematographer, and in come Stefano Sollima and Dariusz Wolski respectively. Brolin and del Toro return as does Taylor Sheridan on screenplay duties. This particular story is one that feels very timely as the cartels are smuggling terrorists across the border and so in an attempt to retaliate, the US Government wants to put petrol on the fire and ignite a war amongst the cartels.

Taking the reins from Villeneuve is a big ask, but Sollima’s direction is assured and retains that gritiness and horrifying realism that the first film captured. In addition, with Brolin and del Toro, you know you’re going to get confident performances from these two. However, as good as these guys are, the absence of Blunt feels like a missed opportunity as no one really steps up to fill that important moral compass role that she represented, even in such a murky and dangerous world. Because these guys are not heroes, not in a million years.

And it’s good night for this person…

With the high of his directorial debut Wind River, Taylor Sheridan again pens the script. Though he has written four stellar screenplays, this is his first major misstep. Though this film is a lot more complex than the first film as it tries to weave several different strands together, but this results in a very messy and meandering story that just does not mesh those strands together well enough, and is really unfocused. What’s more the characters of Matt and Alejandro are barely developed from the first film, which is a real shame as for Alejandro especially, given the enthralling and deeply personal arc that his character went on in the first film. There is an attempt to expand on that arc, but it is minimal at best.

That is not to say, there are one or two moments in the film that really ground the film in reality, especially a scene near the beginning that bluntly remind the viewer that this is a dangerous conflict that we face in the world today. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score is assured, but nowhere near on the level of the brilliant, incredibly tense score that Johann Johannsson (RIP) provided for the first film. There is an argument to be made that a sequel was certainly not needed for this film, and when you take away the elements that made that first film great, it should come as no surprise that you’re going to get a film that despite the best efforts of everyone involved, is really lacking the quality that made its predecessor such a riveting piece of cinema.

Retaining the dark and gritty nature of Sicario, Soldado tries to deliver a more complex story, but its messy screenplay severely lacks the spark and emotional punch that its predecessor delivered. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Sicario (2015)

Image is property of Black Label Media, Thunder Road and Lionsgate

Sicario – Film Review

Cast:  Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya

Director:  Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: In the war on drugs on the USA/Mexico border, an FBI agent is recruited as part of an undercover operation to take down a leading drug cartel.

Review: Whenever you depict war on film, chances are the results usually aren’t going to be pretty, especially the story you’re telling is focusing on the war on drugs and drug cartels near the US/Mexico border. Some folks are going to get their hands dirty and things are going to get messy very quickly, with some fatalities along the way. Though this is an ongoing conflict, and even though the events portrayed here are fictional, you would be forgiven for thinking that you are in fact watching a documentary about this struggle, and not a fictionalised version of events.

The gritty and dark nature of the story then is perfect material for Denis Villeneuve, the director behind Prisoners, the dark and unsettling drama about a family who see their young daughters mysteriously disappear. Once again Villeneuve chooses a subject matter that will almost undoubtedly be very unsettling for some, but at the same time, it’s a story that is told with such conviction you will not want to take your eyes off the screen. The main protagonist here is Blunt’s Kate, an FBI agent who just wants to do what’s right, and that desire takes her into this conflict, and what she sees really opens her eyes. Alongside her is Josh Brolin’s Matt, an agent that is quite casual about the mission they’re on and Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro who by contrast, is not fucking around.

Don’t get in this guy’s cross hairs…

Taylor Sheridan in his debut screenplay tells the story in a very ambiguous way, is what we’re seeing right or is it wrong? There’s certainly some things displayed on screen that are certainly very wrong, and not exactly pleasant, but for a film about the war on drugs, that is hardly a surprise. The film might be a slow burner, but the script keeps you hooked in the story, and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score will keep you on the edge of your seat. The three leading actors all deliver performances of a very high award worthy calibre, but special mention must go to del Toro who has perhaps never been better in his career and was mightily unlucky not to have received an Oscar nomination. He’s a man who is driven by his motivation, and that makes him one scary dude that you don’t want to anger, and if you have angered him, well you’re in deep trouble.

Villeneuve’s direction is masterful with some breathtaking wide shots of the FBI teams on their patrols, the camerawork is so authentic, it really makes you feel as if you’re on patrol with these guys. It kind of goes without saying at this point but Roger Deakin’s cinematography is as beautiful to the eyes, and Johannson’s score is to the ears. Deakins’s work, as is so often the case is just mesmerising to look at, even with the depravity that you see on screen sometimes. It’s incredible to think that he has never won an Oscar across his superb career, despite amassing THIRTEEN nominations. It’s only a matter of time before he lands that coveted Oscar gold, Blade Runner 2049 perhaps?

With a pulsating final sequence that will have you biting your nails until the credits begin to role, Villeneuve reinforced his growing reputation as a film-maker to watch, which he further cemented with his magnificent alien invasion flick Arrival. To make a movie about such a weighty subject matter cannot be an easy task, but with Prisoners and with Sicario, Villeneuve really proved more than anything than when it comes to directing, he most definitely is a Sicario himself, one that is absolutely deadly and does not miss.

Dripping with gorgeous visuals combined with some heavy subject matter seems an unlikely recipe for success, but with electric performances and assured direction, this is superb tense and gritty entertainment.