Review: Sicario

I’ve been waiting for Sicario to come out for a while, I was gutted when I missed the opportunity to see it at the cinema. I watched one of the Director’s (Denis Villeneuve) previous films, Prisoners, and was impressed with the 70’s style slow burn thriller that he’d produced and was really looking forward to seeing his latest effort.

After a raid on a house owned by the drug cartel ends with deadly consequences, FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is asked to join an inter agency task force by shadowy agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to track down and disrupt the operations of the Mexican cartel responsible. This takes them on operations back and forth across the border with the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) who has his own hidden agenda for being involved.

The film begins with the raid on the house, the aim being to free hostages held by a gang. The raid soon turns sour as numerous bodies wrapped in plastic are found in the walls and two officers are killed by an explosion when a booby trapped cellar door is opened. The brutality of these actions clearly shock and appall the FBI team, the sight and smell making them gag, even the experienced Kate is affected, she’s been knocking down doors for three years and has never seen anything like this.

The bodies in the wall and the explosion change Kate, she needs answers, which is why she agrees to join the task force with little to no information.

The filming of this scene sets the tone for the rest of the film. The camera is handheld moving, as if you’re another member of the team during the raid, looking around corners to check for danger and trying to take everything in. It’s fast moving and urgent, using this movement to compliment the cuts and add tension. The camera leans to the left but not quite enough to be a Dutch tilt. It gives the feeling that there’s something not quite right with the whole situation and is used in other parts of the film to convey the insanity of the situation that is the war on drugs in America.

The lighting setups are motivated, using light sources coming through windows, from fluorescent lighting tubes or the interior lights of a car. This is used to clever effect at times, red light across Kate’s face after she shoots a man dead comes from a red sheet covering the window. The danger to a suspect being interrogated by Alejandro is given extra weight with the blue and red flashing lights of Police cars adding to the tension in the scene. It cleverly manages to add tension and meaning to the film whilst giving it the air of realism that really draws you in.

The trips into Mexico are treated like military operations with Kate, Matt and Alejandro joined by Delta force and heavily armed Mexican Police officers who all have their faces covered. The reasons for this become very apparent when they enter Juarez, headless bodies are strung up from underneath the highway, gunshots can be heard in the background and roads are blocked off along their root. They’re definitely not in Arizona anymore.

Later on there is another raid, this time between borders in a tunnel network used by drug smugglers. Parts of the sequence uses night vision and thermal cameras so we see what Kate and the others see. This makes the world look alien, the rocks all in a green or grey hue as they make their way towards the tunnel. It adds tension but also dehumanises the bodies left lying on the floor, they just look like inanimate objects, like they’ve been playing a computer game. This is a numbers game plain and simple, how can we get rid of some of them and make the drug problem more manageable. Deep down they know the war is lost and the policies don’t work, so they will police it the best they can.

There is an empty hollow feeling you’re left with after watching Sicario, I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but that’s the point. The futility of the American policies dealing with the drug trade, shoot or arrest one and there’s two more guys to take his place, even worse they could cause even more carnage fighting it out over who that will be. It’s a fight that can’t be won but has gone on for so long they can’t admit they’ve lost, which leads them to work with who they believe is the easiest group of individuals to manipulate.

Sicario was definitely worth the wait, a high tension thriller that kept me gripped all the way through with great performances from the main cast. It may leave you feeling drained, the lives broken and torn apart by greed and malice, the pointlessness of the situation. But hey, a good film is one you remember, because it made you feel something, be that good or bad.

The Walk (2015)

The Walk follows the story of Philippe Petit who, as a boy, sneaks into the circus and is transfixed by the high wire performers. The skill, the daring do, the showmanship. He has to learn how they achieve this amazing feat. This chance glimpse of another world leads him on a trajectory from a rope around two trees, through performing in the streets of Paris, to walking between the World Trade Centre Towers.

This is a story about ambition, following your dreams and making them reality no matter what. Anything is possible if you just believe.

We first see Philippe stood on the Statue Of Liberty as an adult regaling us with his audacious tale. This framing device is used throughout the film and is a constant distraction along with the narrative that stems from theses scenes. It pulls you away from the film sometimes at moments of high tension, when they’re hiding from guards in the tower or when Philippe starts his life changing walk between the towers. This would be much better left to the audience’s imagination, let them fill in the gaps rather than pulling them out with unnecessary narration.

At times it feels that visual effects are used because they can be, rather than to drive the narrative forward or emphasise a point. This can be seen when we catch up with Philippe in Paris, nearly all the colour is drained out of the frame except for certain items such as the food on the table at a Parisian cafe. Why? I will never know.

The cast do well with what they’re given, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s French accent seems strange at first but you do get used it as the film goes on. You can measure his commitment to the role by the fact that he learnt to walk the wire for real. The rest of the cast, bar Ben Kingsley’s Papa Rudy, are just there. Kingsley gets more to work with as he possesses the knowledge that Philippe needs to fulfil his dream. We never find out what motivates them to follow Philippe and essentially collaborate in criminal acts. Even he points out during the film he’s not the easiest person to get along with! The supporting cast are two dimensional, the focus is completely on Philippe.

The walks, oh the walks are truly breathtaking, tension filled scenes of bravery, madness, pushing yourself to the limit. The camera swirls around Philippe, closing in on the concentration and determination palpable on his face, his feet slowly making their way along the wire suspended in the heavens. These sequences, especially the final walk between the towers, give you a real sense of scale leaving you breathless as if you were on the wire with him. The audacity and the drive of the man all come together in one glorious wire walk above the streets of New York.

As much as this is a about Philippe Petit, it’s about the World Trade Centre. What it meant to people, what it inspired and how nothing stays the same however much we dream. The dream surrounding the building of the towers was as much as Philippe’s dream of walking between them. They stood for a different world for the one we live in today.

The film is bittersweet for all his achievements, he will never have that feeling again. The exhilaration of walking out into the void above us all where no man is meant to be. Forever never lasts forever.