Tag Archives: Denis Villeneuve

Sicario (2015) Movie Review by Darrin Gauthier

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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

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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.

Arrival (2016) Movie Review By John Walsh

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Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Arrival in its most basic concept is a story of Alien ships arriving on Earth. Twelve of them to be precise, dotted around various different locations. It focuses on the ever more frantic attempts of two scientists, one a linguistic expert, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and the other, an Astro physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), in their attempts to communicate with two large Alien creatures, before the worlds military declares all out war. Thankfully, at the heart of this sci-fi drama, is a considerably more complicated movie. Language is the key focus here, not the war or violent struggle for supremacy with galactic overlords that we normally see in films within this genre. It’s a wonderfully introspective look at humanity, how it deals with grief, compassion and most importantly communication.

Amy Adams, the standout performer in the film, delivers a confident, impressive performance as the linguistic professor tasked with the unenviable challenge of deciphering the alien language of two ‘Heptapod’, other worldly creatures, that seem resemble a cross between ‘Thing’ from the Addams Family and an Octopus. Louise has been asked to seek the answer to a simple question from the military, headed up by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker): What do you want? It doesn’t take her long to understand that written communication is required, with the Whale like vernacular proving impossible to translate. After a few visits with the otherworldly beings, she even manages to partly decipher their complex, inky circle, writing style. As both she and Ian face a race against time to convey the crucial question to the aliens, we see glimpses at the wider worlds growing uneasiness at the situation. With various news reports around the world flashing up on tv screens, providing regular updates on the ongoings of China, Russia and Pakistan. All of whom seem ready to nuke the visitors on their doorsteps at a moments notice throughout.

Louise is not short on emotional depth either. “I used to think this was the beginning of your story” we hear her narrate at the beginning of the film, whilst several visions of her young daughter, who sadly dies in her late teens play out. These visions reoccur, becoming more regular as her work aboard the shell gathers pace. These prove to be absolutely vital to the story and the key to finally transcribing the alien calligraphy. Adams never resorts to overacting in these delicate scenes, instead settling on using subtle expressions and body language to convey her mood and feelings perfectly. Her characters emotional conflict during these moments creates a deep undercurrent in the film, helping to steer it through a middle act that is often on the verge of lagging.

Bradford Young’s visuals are on point and absolutely spectacular. The black obelisk, shell of a ship is gargantuan in size, as it darts upward from the ground, though never actually touching it, every bit unnatural looking in stark contrast to the natural land that surrounds it, seemingly for miles. The first time it’s revealed is a thing of beauty, as the helicopter carrying the team to the site slips out from the fog that seems to cling to the air. The inside shots of the shell are not neglected either. Whether it be the equally foggy domain of the ‘Heptapods’, the beautiful inked rings they project onto the invisible barrier or the smooth, black alien interior of the walls or floor. It looks every bit an extraterrestrial vessel.

Also, how could I possibly finish talking about cinematography on this film without mentioning the gravity flipping ninety degrees as the team of scientists climb in for the first time? Young’s work on this only further increases my excitement for the forthcoming Han Solo standalone, which will see him apply his outstanding talents to the world of Star Wars. The brilliant visuals are equalled by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s wonderful score, which really brings an eerie sense of trepidation to the early encounters in the film and an equally powerful, mellower hit of sadness at the end.

And speaking of endings. The film has been described as ‘thinking persons sci-fi’ and given the slow, deliberate pace it takes throughout, not to mention Villeneuve’s penchant for gradually releasing information to his viewers, it really would be hard to disagree with such an assertion. Arrival has a rather major twist in the final act, which I’d prefer to leave unspoilt, it truly should be experienced in the moment to be fully appreciated.

What I will say is that the ‘eureka’ moment is not too dissimilar in style to Christoper Nolan’s Interstellar. It’s a better film than Interstellar though, succeeding where the former failed in being at once epic, and yet also introspective and intimate. We hear Adam’s uttering the prophetic words “Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it and welcome every moment of it”. Bringing up the conclusion to the film, with Max Richter’s goosebump inducing music On the Nature of Daylight playing sombrely in the background. It’s a profoundly powerful and moving end to what is an excellent film.