Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hero: Dark, Dirty

This is my "sometime" Movie Blog. I love two things (among others); movies, and writing. So why, I ask myself, do I not blog more frequently about movies? Part of the answer might be in the fact that I am really moved to write a blog posting when I see a movie that really, well, moves me. Such is the case with Sicario.

The title of this blog posting relates to a film I absolutely loved, Zero Dark Thirty which I blogged about when it came out. Why do I connect these two? Because the excellent thriller Sicario shares much of its DNA with that Kathryn Bigelow-helmed flim.

Sicario at first blush seems to be a straightforward thriller where the good guys/girls are after the Bad Guy: with Zero, Osama Bin Laden and with this film a fictional Mexican Drug Lord who, like Bin Laden is the epitome of pure evil. Straight out of Central Casting, really. I say "seems to be" because in neither film are the reasons the main characters are pursuing the Bad Guy as simple as they first appear. Refer to my previous post for more on Zero's complex motivations, but with Sicario part of the film's accomplishment is how deftly it layers in the various players, and motivations to make the actual reason why the Bad Guy is being pursued far from simple. In fact, in both films the Nemesis being pursued doesn't even appear, if at all, until the final reel, which adds to the mystery and, dare I say, the ambiguousness of the pursuit itself.

Another commonality with Zero, and another reason I love this film is summed up in two words: girl power. Sicario is suffused with Machismo, from the testosterone-infused law-enforcement personnel to the less anonmymous main characters -- Benicio Del Toro's very mysterious quasi-agent, Josh Brolin's even more mysterious possible CIA operative -- the entire film is like teenage video game fantasy: Grand Theft Droga if you will. Yet, there is Emily Blunt's Phoneix drug detective (or DEA agent? It is never really clear) and she is not just the moral through line of the film, but really the energy that drives it forward. Blunt's character arc is Sicario, as Jessica Chastain's was in Zero.

And what an arc it is. From the remarkable opening scene where Blunt's character has her tidy little world literally blown open, through the harrowing, tension filled middle act where (no spoilers here) you are not sure she is going to survive this Bildungsroman, to the extremely ambivalent closing scene, Blunt's character is the measuring stick by which the actions of the other characters are assayed. Brolin is absolutely sensational as an almost robotic "DoD advisor" who seems to be calling the shots, and Del Toro is tyipically great in an Oscar-worthy turn as a former Medellin cartel member who seems to be: a) helping the U.S. Government nail a really, really nasty bad guy, or 2) pursuing his own agenda.

I don't like doing plot synopses in my reviews, so I won't here. Hopefully that is enough to get you intrigued. Johan Johanssen's fabulous score provides a driving, but dark emotional context that fleshes out the film's heavy questions, and Denis Villenueve's top-notch direction ties everything together very well, as, well, Bigelow did in Zero. May I take a moment to mention that I am a card-carrrying member of the Denis Villeneuve marching and shouting society? I loved two of his previous films: the remarkable serial-killer drama/thriller, Prisoner and the mind-bending indie sci-fi film Enemy with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Sicario was nominated for a few Golden Globes, and will probably get a handful of Oscar nods: film, supporting actor (Del Toro) and cinematography. I think the great Roger Deakins could win for his deft lens-work here, but the real crime against humanity will be if Emily Blunt is over-looked a Best Actress nod. She is just amazing. Girl power, indeed.