On occasion, there are too many movies out that fit to print in The Citizens’ Voice and Standard-Speaker. For those times, Rebecca and Tamara will offer their takes on recently watched movies.
“Sicario” – Four out of five stars, in theaters now
“You ask how the watch is made. Keep your eye on the time.”
These are the words that Alejandro, a Mexican consultant with the U.S. Department of Justice, says to FBI agent Kate Macer in “Sicario” after she joins a federal task force fighting the war on drugs. For Macer (Emily Blunt), she only sees what is happening around her, but she doesn’t get the why behind it all.
Macer’s limited view is what the audience sees through the two-hour drama, but she is not the storyteller. Director Denis Villeneuve instead uses it as a plot device. Her world barely extends out of her role in investigating Phoenix kidnappings linked to drug cartels, a point further illustrated when the victims are found dead inside the walls of a suburban home. Her work gets the attention of Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) of the Justice Department and leads her into a bigger fight. This is where Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) fits in.
Villeneuve, who worked with a script by Taylor Sheridan, keeps the action on the surface. As the plot and the border wars deepen, it becomes clear that the what Macer signed up for and what she has gotten herself into are completely different things. Her new role goes against her by-the-book approach she had used as an agent. It’s the same creed followed by her local partner, Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya), who is even more in the dark about what’s happening. Graver refers to him as being “too green” and doesn’t bother to learn his name. Blunt’s performance keeps up with Macer’s changing environment. Always the adaptive actress, Blunt expresses the agent’s vulnerabilities while refusing to compromise herself.
Graver is what happens when a cowboy is put in charge of a military operation. Brolin naturally waltzes through the role of a hotshot who gets credit for catching the bad boys and thinks that every day is a good day when the winning team is his. Of all the characters, Graver has the most access to what the operations are and has the largest wardrobe budget. The problem is that Graver is not a challenge for Brolin or the audience.
But no one is more mysterious than Alejandro. Through most of “Sicario” he is known as a former Mexican prosecutor who is now “freelancing” as a consultant where he is needed. Del Toro makes Alejandro even more enigmatic with how little he reveals about the character. He goes from a man haunted by past trauma to someone who can deliver advice that sound like biblical psalms. But the dedication he pays to keeping his one suit wrinkle free is the same as pressuring witnesses and criminals to spills their guts.
What is equally as good as Blunt’s and Del Toro’s acting is Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Audiences will be thankful that he didn’t resort to the cliched grainy filter that has been used to demonstrate the drug war. Instead, there are beautiful shots of Arizona and Texas, tight compositions of scenes that need no dialogue, and great uses of natural light, especially night shots. However, there is a flaw in the painting Deakins creates in each frame. Kaluuya looks terrible in the most of the shots in which he is featured. In many of the exterior shoots, only his blood-shot eyes had any dimension.
It is Juarez that looks the worst. There seemed to be a running commentary throughout the film that suggests that the horrors of the drug war are bolder in Mexico, where naked corpses are swaying underneath bridges for everyone to see, than in the U.S., with the corpses stuffed between walls. Posters for missing women are the equivalent to building siding and hearing gunshots at a soccer match for children is normal. Villeneuve allows only one story link out of Juarez; it’s from the breakfast table of a Mexican police officer (Maximiliano Hernández) and his adolescent son. There’s no back story for him and by the time his arc crosses with the main storyline, he is still an afterthought.
“Sicario” mean hitman in Mexico, but it’s not the driving force behind watching what unfolds — at least not at first. Despite the Juarez flaw, “Sicario” is worth watching for the performances alone.