Emily Blunt faces tough questions as FBI agent in thriller ‘Sicario’

16 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A well-crafted thriller.

The Museum of Modern Art last night hosted the New York screening of “Sicario,” starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro. Denis Villeneuve, the French-Canadian director whose drug cartel thriller “Sicario” opens Sept. 18, says that film and his previous, “Prisoners” — both shot by Roger Deakins —“belong to the same cinematic alphabet.It’s a story that has followed the Puerto Rico-born actor from the start: One of his first credits was the 1990 NBC miniseries “Drug Wars: The Camarena Story.” He’s played a recovering drug addict (“21 Grams”) and one not so recovering at all (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”).

I mean that literally: Through the first half of the film, there’s rarely a scene in which something isn’t growling or grumbling in the background. The film currently has a 94 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the cast promised the reviews are accurate. “It turned out to be a good film that I’m very proud of. Both movies wanted to embrace nature.” “For ‘Prisoners,’ we were embracing the idea of shooting during Thanksgiving in the fall, that kind of depressing, dark light. He starred as Pablo Escobar in last year’s “Escobar: Paradise Lost.” And the critical pinnacle of his career came in his Oscar-winning performance as an honest Mexico police officer in Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic.” In Denis Villeneuve’s muscular, grim thriller “Sicario” (which opens Friday and expands nationwide Oct. 2), del Toro finds himself back on the other side of the border, playing a mysterious mercenary joined with a CIA task force covertly pursing a Mexican drug lord. “I don’t know how it comes about, but all I can say is I’m an actor in this time,” says del Toro. “Movies borrow from their times.

Sometimes the sound comes from something big, like a passing APC engine or a helicopter blade, and sometimes from something small, like a kid rolling an orange across a table or an interrogator grinding a cap back onto a water bottle. And ‘Sicario’ is the opposite; we went for the harsh, brutal light of the Chihuahua Desert (in Mexico) — very harsh, very cruel sunlight.” Villeneuve adds that both features deal with “a naturalistic approach, and a kind of minimalism visually,” which happen to be Deakins’ stock in trade. These stories are out there in the newspapers.” “Sicario,” which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May and had its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, has already drawn raves for del Toro’s terse gravitas as a shadowy man known only as Alejandro.

Her actions catch the attention of a special taskforce targeting the Mexican drug cartels, headed by smooth-talking CIA agent Matt (Josh Brolin) and his “associate”, the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). He says little but has a weighty presence. “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do,” he warns Emily Blunt’s less-experienced FBI agent. “I’ve been in movies where I think it’s going to work, and it doesn’t. While the movie does its best not to preach about U.S. drug policy—opting instead to focus on the ground-level corruption on both sides of the border—the political undertones are palpable. The groaning soundtrack is insane; it sounds something like the score of Inception, if you drilled it with drums, handed it to Skrillex, and then asked him to go remix it in hell.

Once I read the script and started to get into it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is something that I want to put my time and energy into!’ What attracted me to the movie is that it brings something into the consciousness. Before the descent, director Denis Villeneuve makes a swiftly moving action thriller that draws inspiration from the likes of Training Day and Michael Mann’s action catalogue; Mann’s influence is particularly noticeable during the gunfights here, which are as relentless and clean as anything you’ll find in Collateral or Heat. It’s an actor’s dream to do this type of role and I’m so happy that I could do it.” The British star, who became an American citizen last month, has topped a short list of actresses to portray action-heavy roles, especially after starring in “Edge of Tomorrow” with Tom Cruise.

Brolin hopes the spate of new artistic ventures focusing on the U.S.-led war on drugs—including the 2015 documentary “Cartel Land” and Don Winslow’s latest novel, “Cartel”—brings renewed attention to a failed policy. “A trillion dollars have been spent on the [war on drugs] but nothing has changed in the last 40 years,” he said. “There is enough happening right now that at least it could become a conversation, as opposed to part of a denial system.” While the violent drug kingpins are the obvious bad guys in “Sicario,” certain members of the American-led task force have sinister motives of their own, challenging the audience to distinguish between friend and foe. “It’s very easy just to pool it in Mexico and Colombia and say that’s where [the corruption] is,” Ms. But don’t expect her entire career to be based on wielding guns. “I don’t want to do it all the time,” she admitted. “If I did, that would mean I would have to be in the gym perpetually, which is something I do not enjoy. And on a particularly harrowing scene where a U.S. task force raids an underground tunnel used to smuggle drugs, he and Villeneuve used two different night-vision attachments employed by the military — one an infrared thermal system. “You have to have some kind of light, even if it is very minimal,” Deakins says. “It was almost ridiculous how little light I was using, but I didn’t want to go too far and make the image look too good, because, naturalistically, it wouldn’t work.” Shooting at the border and in certain parts of Mexico on “Sicario” certainly posed problems, especially in Ciudad Juarez, a city mired in drug violence and countless murders over the past couple of decades. She’s led by two “advisors” named Alejandro and Matt (Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin) and, like the audience, never fully knows what’s going on.

And when a shootout at the El Paso/Juarez border was called for, impossible to do due to security reasons, the filmmakers created the Bridge of Americas on a parking lot in Albuquerque. “We had the same problem on ‘No Country for Old Men,’” says Deakins about the 2007 Coen brothers movie, “we created (the border) on an overpass.” But capturing the verisimilitude of Mexico was important, especially in a convoy sequence to arrest a high-ranking cartel member, in which Mexico City’s sprawling suburbs double for Juarez. “Denis and I thought, ‘this has to be another world,’ it’s key to Emily’s (Blunt) character,” says Deakins. “It’s got to be totally alien to her experience. “Mexico City is like an urban monster,” adds Villeneuve. “I was looking for specific things. She’s whisked across the desert from one location to another, all the while trying to figure out who she’s really working for and why they are suddenly so interested in killing Mexican cartel members. The scouts found places in Mexico City that were really close to the reality of Juarez: the wide streets, those shopping centers, the architecture, the poverty.” Although Villeneuve says he was “born in 35mm,” using the Arri Alexa brings “a sensibility that 35mm film doesn’t have.

We just saw Charlize [Theron] in ‘Mad Max’ and Rebecca Ferguson in ‘Mission: Impossible’ and all these amazing women showing that they can do a push up and capable of doing what the guys are doing. It has to come from a deep emotional understanding.” That del Toro, whose family moved to Pennsylvania when he was 12 years old, has frequently found — or been found by — drug-war tales is somewhat surprising to him. She nails the tricky combination of toughness and vulnerability and is clearly capable of holding her own with the big boys on the action/thriller front.

Blunt, who is quickly becoming one of the best action actors we have, gives balance to a character who is both way out of her depth and also capable of shooting anyone who tries some shit right in the face. He has played Che Guevara (“Che”), been a regular in the Marvel universe as The Collector and will always be beloved for his mumbling Fred Fenster in “The Usual Suspects.” He was also recently cast to play the villain in Colin Trevorrow’s “Star Wars: Episode VIII.” “It’s a cool part. Alongside her, Brolin expertly channels all of the smiley, gum-popping malevolence that I assume every sociopathic Blackwater operative carries around.

His performance in Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” earned him an Academy Award. “I’m Hollywood’s go-to guy for the war on drugs,” joked Del Toro, who plays a mysterious Mexican operative. “I’ve played many characters that live in the drug world. Villeneuve, who got his start in documentary filmmaking, asserts that the trip was purely for research. “When I depict something on the screen I want it to be as authentic as possible,” he said. “In order to make a scene that will take place in Juarez, I needed to go there to learn, to feel, to see.” In creating that reality, the director brings the audience face to face with the brutality of the drug war. And it’s Roger Deakins, who could shoot with a shoe and it would look great.” Villeneuve will be working again with Deakins on a “Blade Runner” sequel, which neither of them could talk much about. There’s none of the usual Hollywood over-the-top action stuff here – just a well-crafted film that will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

This might sound like it has all the elements of a fun action movie, but Villenueve has no interest in showing you a good time, opting for something much more punishing instead. Sicario, with its walls of sound and sun-drenched panoramas, beats down on both the characters and the audience, continuously ratcheting up the tension until it starts to feel like some sort of horrific thriller. At one point, the film’s incessant growling gives way to scenes marked by eerie, expansive silence, and the Mann-ian action scenes become dense with the feeling of dread. Blunt’s husband John Krasinski joined the bash and made his rounds socializing with guests including director Amy Heckerling and cracked jokes with Del Toro. The climactic action sequence is shot unlike any I can remember seeing before: The camera moves like it’s waiting for a serial killer to jump out from behind every corner, gunshots are played for jump scares, and the screen is suddenly full of monsters instead of soldiers.

Instead, we get dead people hidden in the walls of a house, mutilated corpses dangling from a highway overpass, and a main character beaten down to the point of near absurdity. This world is much more bleak than anything Immortan Joe could dream up, but you’ll want to stick around for the sake of finding out where the rabbithole of violence ends.

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