Tag Archives: Benicio Del Toro

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018) Movie Review By John Walsh

Sicario Day of Soldado

Director: Stefano Sollima
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner

There’s a well documented phenomena in the movie industry, certainly Hollywood, that seems to afflict big movie studios. The primary cause is greed and lack of originality. The dreaded sequel syndrome has struck at the heart of many a promising trilogy or franchise and it has another victim in its sights. The first Sicario was a fantastic film. A self contained story that explored important themes, featured the talents of Emily Blunt, Roger Deakins and the directorial genius that is Denis Villeneuve.

I really didn’t think a sequel was necessary and neither did Stefano Sollima or Taylor Sheridan clearly, because the only real connection to the first film is Matt Graver and Alejandro Gillick. 

Day of the Soldado is this potential Sicario trilogy’s attempt at doing the Dark Knight. It shares the same universe as the first film but is essentially another self contained story. That hasn’t changed my opinion about returning to this world any however, Graver and Gillick are back but that special spark is missing. Only time will tell whether they pull a Dark Knight Returns and attempt to interconnect the three with a returning Villeneuve and Emily Blunt or if they’re going down the Jason Bourne route with countless sequels that meander all over the place before ending without a meaningful conclusion. 

It starts with a bang, literally, with an illegal Muslim terrorist blowing himself and border patrol officers up after a brief chase and stand-off. This theme continues with spectacular fashion onto the next scene with multiple men detonating explosive jackets in a grocery store. I have to say, I did enjoy the way that whole scene was filmed. It put the audiences in the shoes of a passerby caught up in the fracas. It had an extra bit of emotional bite too, especially with the handful of real attack’s that have taken place in the U.K. and France recently. It’s this atrocity that’s responsible for kicking off the story and bringing Mr. Graver into the proceedings. 

Anybody who has seen the first Sicario will know what you’re getting with Matt Graver. He’s an unflinching, cavalier, leader of men that will do anything to get results. We get a perfect visual representation of that when he interrogates a political prisoner and calls an air strike on his familial home to hammer home the point that the US has other, more lethal means of getting answers in the current day. This is the morally grey man that the CIA/DoD task with handling the terrorist issue. He quickly deduces that it’s the Mexican cartels who are responsible for sneaking them across the border and recruits his old friend, Alejandro, once more before attempting to incite a civil war. 

There’s an interesting conversation around this point between Graver and the President where the definition of terrorist is discussed. Which incidentally, is a group of person that will use any means necessary to gain a political goal. This almost perfectly describes Matt and Alejandro to a lesser degree and further highlights the moral ambiguity of the so called ‘good guys’.

They don’t mess around either, performing a series of false flag attacks across the border to stoke up violence and turn Mexico into another Iraq. Gillick effortlessly assassinates a high profile lawyer, linked with the Matamoros cartel, in one slick and quick fire manoeuvre. That’s one thing I can’t have any complaints about here, the action sequences throughout are consistently excellent and exhilarating. There’s another equally well executed operation shortly afterwards with the kidnapping of the rival cartel leaders daughter, Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner). There’s a fake ‘rescue’ mission and then the corrupt Mexican police spice things up nicely, leaving Isabela and Alejandro stranded. 

Del Toro is thrust into the humanising figure in the absence of Emily Blunt and in fairness to him, he nearly fills the void. He has a fair few tender moments in the midst of the anarchy, mostly during his time spent bonding with Isabela, who presumably reminds him of his dead daughter. He even turns rogue in an effort to save his young companion after some intel comes in showing that several of the terrorists were actually American natives. This is a problematic discovery to say the least after the explosive antics that preceded it. The operation is called off and Isabela is deemed expendable thereafter.

Benicio is a great actor but you just can’t humanise a decidedly more brutal and less nuanced story. Indeed, Sollima and Sheridan took the decision to deliberately make a more brutal story with little to no morals, which I suppose is fair enough, it’s their creation after all, but for me it lacked something in the absence of a Kate Macy. She was the audiences perspective into this murky underworld of criminality and state endorsed political manoeuvring and the absence of humanity was badly felt in the midst of the unabated, unadulterated violence that personified the large parts of the film. 

It wasn’t just the decision to go for a moral free story that left a bitter aftertaste in my ultimate enjoyment of this film. The story as a whole felt decidedly average for a Taylor Sheridan project. I love the man, he’s a brilliant writer and he’s penned some of my favourite films in recent years, but this one just felt muddled in parts, confusing in others and stagnated in the Mexican desert. There was little evidence of any real character development outside of Alejandro’s humanisation and the fatherly protectiveness of Isabela he exhibited.

The ending felt rushed and unfinished too and was left open for another film that’ll presumably see Gillick taking the young ex-smuggler who shot him through the jaw under his wing. Whether I can muster up enough energy to care after this effort is another thing entirely. 

Day of the Soldado was never a film that I wanted. I think there’s something to said about a great one off, self contained story that stands the test of time. I’ll never understand Hollywood’s incessant urge to fire out sequels willy nilly. That being said, I can’t sit here and say this film was the worst I’ve ever seen or that I didn’t get any enjoyment out of it because I definitely did. The choreography, especially during the swat manoeuvres was slick and every bit as good as the original. The performances were pretty decent in the main, certainly from Brolin and Del Toro, and as a bit of escapism, then it certainly scratched an itch. 

I’m not going to get into the clear satire about American nationals being every bit as dangerous or likely to create terror as an extreme Islamist because it’s Taylor Sheridan and the man always finds ways to intelligently implement complex themes into otherwise superficial action fair. Donald Trump’s idiotic, knee jerk, presidency is an open goal for guys with his intellect. 

Would I recommend this? Yeah, I probably would. It’s not a patch on the original, which it will always be compared against, because it shares the name, but it’s a decent enough watch. 

Rating: 3.5/5

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Sicario (2015) Movie Review by Darrin Gauthier

Sicario.png

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro

Plot:  An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 93%    Audience 84%

Why I  Watched it: The trailer looked good, it got rave reviews and the cast is good as well.

Thoughts: Director Denis Villeneuve is on roll, everyone of his movies seem to be loved by critics and he’s also doing very different films. Here’s another movie to prove my Josh Brolin rule, when he’s a secondary character the film is good when he’s the lead well let’s say not so much.

What I Liked: This is a very well directed and well shot film, actually all the tech stuff is great, editing, sound all top notch.  I will also give the film a ton of credit for taking a well worn plot, the war against drugs and coming at it from a different angle. The film is intense and has this doom and gloom feel to it, we actually feel the sense of losing the war on drugs.  The film is also a pretty good thriller and action film, the opening scenes is scary as crap and sets the tone.  Also the boarding cross scene is text book on building suspense and tension.

The acting here is good but I want to single out not only the acting of Benicio Del Toro but also his character, this is a different dude, I don’t think we’ve seen someone like him in this kind of movie, and he really sets the tone of this film not being about white and wrong but the gray area of what you have to do to make a difference, it’s not about following or breaking rules it’s about doing what needs to be done.

Del Toro crushes this role cause he’s not trying to be a good or bad guy he just is and he does what he feels has to be done. Love the fact that his character is quiet a lot, he’s in the background. The stuff his character does is shocking cause we haven’t seen “Good Guys” do this type of thing but in another sense it fits who he is, I like he doesn’t say his backstory, we learn about it but for him I don’t think he needs to tell someone just so he could justify what he does.  There’s a coldness and also a business like approach. Josh Brolin is also good, he gets to be cocky and glib and he does it well.

The other thing about this film is that it nails the fight and the battle and the fact that this film is so dark really clicks with the subject matter, this isn’t a balls out action film this has real stakes and shows how people become corrupted.  Sometimes it isn’t who people are it’s what they do that seals their fate.

What I didn’t like: Won’t beat around the bush the only real problem with this film is Emily Blunt’s character, now I’m going to go on a rant and I’ll be clear I hated her character and the way it was written, as an actor Blunt is very good and I like her, she’s talented but the film is lucky everything else was so good cause that character was the turd in the punch bowl.  The big factor with the character is if you take it out she not only wouldn’t be missed but would make the film better.  Her character is so cliched it hurts the film, we get it, she’s the audience she’s our surrogate, but come on she’s been doing this for 4 years she’s this naive and also she’s one note, she says and does the same thing the whole time and it gets to the point you have no idea why the rest of the characters are putting up with her.  Also she has no arc, and love the backstory for her she’s divorced and she smokes and drinks. The other real problem with the movie is almost every time she’s on screen the momentum stops dead, her scenes add nothing and look the most telling thing about her is that this character is not in the sequel. Blunt is a good actress if they did something with this character then I wouldn’t mind but she’s there to ask questions so we find out what’s going on.  As a character she adds nothing.

Final Thoughts: I did like the film, it felt different and it had real intensity but I’m not joking about how much the Blunt character took me out of the movie she takes a film I would have given an 8 to and drops it to a 6.

Rating: 6/10

A Perfect Day (2015) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

A PERFECT DAY.png

Director: Fernando León de Aranoa
Writers: Fernando León de Aranoa,  Diego Farias (collaborating writer)
Stars: Benicio Del Toro,  Tim Robbins,  Olga Kurylenko

If I could use one word to describe A Perfect Day it would be unique. Director Fernando León de Aranoa has a real knack to take an ordinary task into an impossible situation. The movie tells the story of aid workers Mambru (Benicio del Toro), B (Tim Robbins), Damir (Fedja Stukan) and Sophie (Melanie Thierry) working in the Balkans at the tail end of the Balkan crisis in the mid nineties.

Mambru is the reluctant leader in the group who is head of security and is probably the most grounded one out of the four who is attempting to remove a dead body out of a well using a pulley system and a car to lift the rather obese corpse. As Mambru is close to removing the “dead weight” from the well the rope snaps and the body crashes back down to the water below leaving the aid worker in a situation. Without rope the dead man cannot be removed from the well.

B is played by Tim Robbins who is a bit of a wise cracker and Robbins has a real knack of playing a character like this who is a little unpredictable but likeable who on his way back to where Mambru is located and is accompanied by Sophie in their jeep. When suddenly the are stopped in their tracks with a dead cow in the middle of the road.

Sophie reckons they should just drive around the dead animal, but B reckons there is mines on either side of the dead cow and the whole thing is a set up. The reality is that B is actually just playing with Sophie here as the only “solution” to the situation is to drive right over the cow at top speed. In the end Sophie didn’t think the joke was funny at all. B certainly did.

The story now progresses into a more serious situation as Mambru  finds a lost local boy called Nikola played by young Eldar Residovic who has had his football stolen by the local bullies. Whilst Mambru tries to recover the ball one of the boys pulls a gun out on him and Mambru manages to scarper back into his car with the boy and heads to the nearby UN base. It is here we meet Mambru’s ex (Olga Kurylenko) who evaluates the situation in the Balkans.

As previously mentioned, the story is a simple tale but well executed by the writing and especially the acting from all the cast. Essentially A Perfect Day is a Bosnian road trip through the dusty countryside, letting you catch a glimpse and an idea of the situation in the Balkans at that time. What I felt was refreshing about the movie being set during a period of uncertainty and the very mention of War would assume we are in for a gore fest.

Not at all, the movie doesn’t shy away from the seriousness of War but does a different take on how the simpler things in life like fresh water from the wells in here areas are difficult to maintain and come by during the conflict. Rope is harder to find in the country when you need it to remove dead things from wells because the shop keeper requires the rope in case of any hangings. 

In terms of the the cast, I though the acting and the casting where well balanced as you never felt at any point that this was a Tim Robbins movie or a Benicio Del Toro movie, as I felt the supporting cast were also incredibly consistent throughout the movie.

Melanie Thierry and Olga Kurylenko do a great job  job, but the surprises and the local actors of Eldar Residovic and Fedja Stukan gave incredible performances. Having Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins is just the cherry on the top as the two aid workers.
Both of them shared some very sharp dialogue and bounced off each other and showed great chemistry on screen. The writing and dialogue was incredibly funny and quick witted. The characters development in the duration of the movie is so natural you barely notice it as it’s not forced and they grow on you within the first ten minutes.

I can’t review this movie without mentioning the soundtrack. Although unfamiliar with most of the filmmakers choices with some unusual rock songs throughout adding to the offbeat and edgy atmosphere to this movie. As to the cinematography from the Director of Photography Alex Catalan, which he uses in a simple way but contains some beautiful shots of the harsh countryside to the effect and manages to set the tone with the use of the natural light and colours to make you feel like you are there.
I have to say I enjoyed this movie a lot and although it is not a masterpiece, it has a subtle and unpredictable strength to it and I recommend anyone who hasn’t watched this yet to do so.

Sicario (2015) Movie Review by John Walsh

Sicario

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro

Boasting some stunning visuals, sporadic bouts of violence and at times unbearable tension. The hugely impressive Sicario from Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) is a hard hitting thriller of a film that delves into the morality of the proxy wars being waged by US intelligence agencies against drug cartels in Mexico and the human effects on both sides of the border.

It begins with a bang, literally, following Kate Macy (Emily Blunt) and her team of FBI agents as they storm quite the little house of horrors in a vain attempt to rescue hostages. After crashing their armoured vehicle through the house, they quickly go about their business clearing each room within. During this process Kate narrowly avoids a shotgun blast of the sort that would send Jules Winnfield running into retirement and the resulting crater in the wall unveils a ghastly discovery. It turns out the entire house has dozens of decomposing corpses behind the walls, with a Mexican cartel the likely perpetrators. The brutality doesn’t end there either as a bomb explodes in one of the outbuildings, sending limbs flying and killing several agents.

In the aftermath, a clearly shell shocked Kate is called into the office and it’s at this point we’re first introduced to Matt (Josh Brolin); a supposed DoD consultant who’s spearheading a task force that’ll bring the perpetrators of the earlier events to justice. The true extent of his position is rather comically played down by his casual outfit choice of a t-shirt, slacks and a pair of sandals. Kate’s escapades as the leader of the aforementioned special FBI unit, that’s been involved in many raids with a flawless record, have caught the eye of her superiors and she is effectively forced to volunteer for this task force.

She travels with Matt and the quietly contemplative, not to mention rather dapper looking, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro); a Colombian ‘advisor’ to the group, as they fly to El Paso. Upon arriving, the first of what’ll be many lies are revealed, as it turns out the trip is going to involve a quick jaunt over the Mexican border to kidnap a member of the cartel. The aim of this operation being to draw more high ranking members out from hiding. An anxious journey following a heavily armoured convoy of jeeps, escorted by machine gun wielding, Mexican police officers helps to highlights the dangerous nature of the operation. Everything appears to go swimmingly, though Alejandro forebodingly tells Kate that trouble will be waiting at the border if anywhere. And he was right too. Stuck in a traffic jam, barely over the border, there’s another moment of anxiousness as the passengers put their peripheral vision to good use, quickly picking out two cars either side of the convoy. With anxiety levels reaching fever pitch, it doesn’t take long for the team to quickly react and deal with the situation before it even developed.

You can’t help but feel sorry for Kate during and after this point as she’s plunged deeper into a world she’s clearly not comfortable being part of. Serving as a proxy for the viewer in many ways, she is kept in the dark by Matt and Alejandro, and struggles to accept the clearly illegal actions being taken by the task force. The latter seeing no issue in torturing the cartel member stolen across the border or the bent cop that almost chokes Kate to death for a potential lead. The lengths they’ll go to are further highlighted when the film visits a large hanger of sorts full with illegal immigrants, that are interrogated for any information available. Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya); the African American ex-partner of Kate is treated with even more contempt by Matt, who either can’t or refuses to even remember his name. Following these interrogations, Alejandro manages to discover the whereabouts of a secret tunnel that runs under the border and so we are led into the finale

With the tension ratcheted up rather effectively, thanks to the use of night vision visuals, we see a beautiful yet ominous sunset framing the task force’s descent underground as the final operation begins. An intense firefight takes place with cartel members in the claustrophobic surrounds of the tunnel network. Kate manages to track the movements of Alejandro whilst bullets ricochet all over the place and with her conscience gnawing away at her, she confronts him just as he’s about to take off with a bent Mexican police officer. Alejandro means business however and shoots her body armour without hesitation, incapacitating her and swatting the confrontation away with almost pitying disdain before speeding off. What follows is a fairly gut wrenching confrontation with the cartel leader and his family, which ends in a complete bloodbath. There’s then just time for one more encounter between Kate and Alejandro. The latter forcing the signing of an official report that exonerates him and the task force for their actions after threatening to kill Kate and cover it up as a suicide.

The ever impressive Emily Blunt delivers a polished, assured performance as Kate, effectively portraying the despairing angst felt by the character as she’s fed lies, left out of the picture, faces a tussle with the morality of the task groups actions and finds her position becoming more marginalised. Josh Brolin plays the almost annoyingly cocksure, gum chewing, Matt with an excellence that I’ve come to expect from him, but it’s Benicio Del Toro that really steals the show for me. Alejandro is somewhat of a side character for two thirds of this movie, which makes it all the more remarkable that he grows into it to the extent he does, becoming the main man in the final act. When we first see him, he looks tired, bereaved and sullen, even awaking startled from a nightmare whilst on the plane with Kate. The reason behind this small sliver of vulnerability in the otherwise menacing presence he projects is revealed later and it helps to somewhat absolve the cold, calculated actions he takes towards the films end. There was also a small, but brilliant, cameo from Jon Bernthal and I’d also like to give an honourable mention to Daniel Kaluuya too. Although his impact on the story was fairly minimal, I thought he acted well enough in each of his scenes.

The cinematography is a real positive of this film and is utterly jaw dropping, which isn’t too surprising given the genius that is Roger Deakins (Shawshank Redemption, True Grit, No Country for Old Men). It’s a real travesty that this man has not won an Oscar. The aerial shots of the barren Mexican landscape were stunning and made to look almost outer worldly at times, which only served to further highlight the dangers of the foreign landscape the task force was entering, and as I previously mentioned, the night vision was very effective in its usage. I couldn’t finish discussing the visuals of this film without once again mentioning the twilight, sunset scene, which was just incredibly beautiful.

Just a brilliant film overall and I highly recommend this to anyone that hasn’t seen it yet.