Tagged Denis Villeneuve

Villeneuve Crosses the Border of Criminality with Sicario

Sicario. 2015. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.
Starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Max Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo P. Saracino, and Kevin Wiggins. Black Label Media/Lions Gate Films/Thunder Road Pictures.
Rated 14A. 121 minutes.
Action/Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTERThe opening of Sicario provides us a definition of the term. The first involves Romans, the Jews killing people who invaded their homelands. The second offers up the term as Mexican for ‘hitman’. Immediately, along with the pulsing pound of the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson (who worked with director Denis Villeneuve previously on Prisoners), the film sets us up for a grim story. In fact, the initial 3 or 4 minutes are dark – unbelievably so – and the tone is set.
One of the things I admire about Villeneuve, from his early feature Maelström to the most recent Prisoners, even Incendies, is the fact as a director he sets the atmosphere, mood and tone of his work so smoothly and so quickly that it’s almost ridiculous. Not in a bad way. He immerses us in the bleak lives of the characters sitting in the middle of his stories. We’re right alongside them. In Prisoners, before the main action of the plot even takes place you get this frightening sense of an ominous story to come. Similarly, Villeneuve draws us into Sicario‘s web with a dark and brooding landscape, plus a heavy dose of nihilistic action set within the morbidly electrifying world of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Mexican cartels. Never once does this film let go. Always tense, never ceasing with its suspenseful atmosphere, filled by doubt and an almost raw animal quality. The agents who inhabit this story, everyone involved, they are each predators; all fighting to rule the jungle.
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During an FBI raid of possible kidnappers, Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and the rest of the team find corpses stashed in the walls of the house. Kate and others take a breather, as the investigation team starts a crime scene. Then an IED explodes in the back of the house, which kills two officers on the scene. Dave Jennings (Victor Garber) later recommends Agent Macer to a CIA Special Activities Division, and undercover officer/DOD adviser Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He and a group of operatives are tracking down those responsible, including a hitman for a Juárez cartel named Manuel Diaz. Willingly volunteering her time, and possibly life, Kate takes part in the team.
Once Kate meets a partner of Graver, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), she’s told they are headed to Juárez. This changes everything. Suddenly her journey with the team becomes more likely to be deadly. After they finally land in Juárez, we follow Agent Macer and the others closely, right alongside the action. The drug wars are running high, hot, heavy. The blood is not done flowing, on the streets of America nor certainly is it anywhere near finished in Juárez. Kate has to transform into a different, tougher, more brutal agent if she is to survive the job with which she’s been tasked.

Kate: “The fuck are we doing?”
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One reason I walked away from this film thoroughly satisfied is because, while certain elements are things we’ve all seen before, the screenplay from Taylor Sheridan contains a lot of good stuff. It isn’t a ton of cliched CIA/FBI nonsense jammed together with the tired view of cartels with which we’ve been inundated in the movies. Sheridan provides solid dialogue, as well as paces the film pretty well. For an action film that contains a nice helping of dialogue, there doesn’t feel like any points where the pacing lags. That’s always a downer for a movie relying on action to drive the audience’s attention span. But it isn’t predominantly action. This film has so much intrigue and mystery, specifically pertaining to Benicio del Toro’s character, his backstory and origins. Not to mention the already infamous scene where Alejandro in the interrogation room most likely rapes a man; that’s debatable but I believe a running theme in this film, pertaining to the cartel and also the methods of CIA/FBI Agents, is that the horrors we do see are nothing compared to the ones we don’t see. It’s all about the surface, appearances, and the hidden underbelly. So Alejandro as a character embodies much of that theme himself. Overall, the writing is very subtle in places where it could easily have gone over-the-top, typical, or just full-on cliche.
Next is the fact I thought a female protagonist in Sicario works perfectly. We need more strong but also flawed female characters in cinema. Not to say Agent Kate Macer is flawed in a negative sense. Although, in terms of having to become part of this dangerous drug war world Kate has flaws – she is too human. Throughout the film we watch her struggle with the weight of moral ambiguity in the face of trying to attain the greater good. A man is usually who we see in this situations, whether on television or in the movies. Nice to watch Emily Blunt play an interesting character, especially thrown into this typically male-dominated environment, and we follow along to see how she either fits in, or falls out. And she is not perfect, again, I repeat, not perfect. Just like male characters we see who are allowed to be tough and also ridiculously flawed, Blunt plays Agent Macer as someone not perfect, even if she is tougher than nails. It’s the duality that needs to be allowed to female characters, much as it is for the men. Because they are just as interesting, if not more so depending on the situation. Personally, I dig how she navigates the patriarchal world of law enforcement and particularly the one concerning cartels, eventually proving her worth in the part she plays.SICARIO Day 16 S_D16_04262.NEFPic3
There are a wealth of great characters in this film. Aside from that, again I have to say, Villeneuve does a fantastic job making everything look so dark and murky, even in broad daylight. There are a few elements to all that. First, the cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins is slick, rich, it has a vibrant quality in every kind of light, whether among the shadows or in the dusty sunlit streets of Mexico. Deakins is a master behind the lens and his work with Villeneuve only continues to affirm that, every damn time. They are a perfect pairing, almost with the same sensibilities in terms of how subject matter ought to be captured through the cinematographer’s eyes. Regardless, they work so well as a team. Secondly, as I mentioned at the start Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score provides the appropriate music at every last turn. At the start the opening sequence is driven by his foreboding music, throbbing in our ears and right through the chest. Later, the intensity amps up when the action gets frenetic, or generally swells, gets deeper and more gloomy when the story turns darker, darker still. Jóhannsson compliments the story in the best way, which only helps the work of Deakins and Villeneuve look/feel better along the way.
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If I said Sicario were anything less than a 5-star film, I’d be lying. I’m not saying it has to be perfect. I’m saying it does an amazingly impressive job with every aspect of the film, from music to production design to the writing, the direction and the cinematography. Every bit of this movie is enjoyable. It enthralled me from beginning to end. Seeing it in theatre is worth it, as the visuals look even more gorgeous on a big screen. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing it on Blu ray, which will absolutely be a whole new experience. This is written well, captured well. Denis Villeneuve is a fantastic and fascinating director who is worthy of watching, film after film. I hope he keeps making things with an edge, a darkness in them. He manages to bring across those tough stories so well, with a shadowy yet human quality. This one is a furious, enjoyable romp through drug war territory with a deep and fractured look into the people who fight it, how they do, as well as the lengths to which they’ll go under the guise of a ‘greater good’. At times nihilistic, Sicario is always a treat for the eyes, the ears, and that dark spot in your soul where only little tiny bits of hope cling.

ENEMY is a Beautiful, Dark Mindfuck

Enemy. 2014. Dir. Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, and Isabella Rossellini. E1 Films. Rated R. 90 minutes. Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Movie)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

enemy-poster03I won’t waste any time really describing the plot of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, which is in part based on the novel The Double by José Saramago. You can easily get the quick description from any site like IMDB, or somewhere else of that nature. What I want to talk about is my take on what actually happens in the film. So, with that being said, if you’ve not yet seen this you’ll probably want to avoid the remainder of my review.

Early on, Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history professor at some college, gives lectures pertaining to totalitarian regimes. I think this leads into one of the larger themes of the film. While some think the movie is an analogy of how it is to live under a totalitarian regime, maybe unknowingly. However, I think this is ultimately about the totalitarian in all of us. What I mean is that I believe Adam Bell and Anthony Claire – his double – are truly one person. I think this movie speaks to how we are often dictators of ourselves.
In this sense, Adam is both himself, a history professor, and Anthony, or Daniel Saint Claire the background actor in lesser known films.
One of the instances I think that points to this is when Adam meets with his mother (the consistently interesting and lovely Isabella Rossellini) – he tells her about this possible double, which she of course pretty much laughs off. Afterwards, though, she tells him: “I think you should quit that fantasy being a third-rate movie actor“. The statement throws Adam off. It’s worth mentioning that just before this his mother serves blueberries for dessert. Adam tells her he doesn’t like blueberries, but she reassures him “of course” he does, and they’re good for him – this directly relates to when we see Anthony earlier before his meeting with Adam, when he arrives home looking for blueberries and his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) forgot to get the ones he wanted. I believe this is one tell-tale sign Villeneuve is exploring the duality of one person.
enemy06There are most certainly instances in Enemy that cannot truly be reconciled into one neat little package for explanation. On the other hand, I do believe there’s one overall theme that protrudes from the film – the struggle of certain men to overcome their desire and draw towards infidelity. I am almost certain the spider imagery here is also closely paralleled with the idea of women. For instance, the very end – and once again, TURN BACK if you have not see this film to the end!
enemy05At the close of the film, Anthony has died in a car accident along with Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) after a switch between the two identical men goes awry. After this, Adam is seem continuing on, seemingly, happily with a pregnant Helen. He receives an envelope in the mail containing a smaller black envelope; inside, a key. This is harkens back to an awkward encounter Adam has in the elevator with a man, thinking he is Anthony, talking about some place they went together, rambling about new keys, and so on. All of this plays to the beginning where Anthony is seen at the weird sex club with the women and the spider – all that. Adam then says he may have to go out later that night, but receives no response from Helen. When he goes into the room to find her, Adam only finds a massive black spider huddling up, as if scared, in the room instead. He doesn’t really look scared so much, as he almost seems to have expected to see it there sooner or later.
enemy07I believe this is a huge key. Right there, Adam comes face to face once more with the infidelity inside him – the feelings Anthony represented. Adam had no desire to have sex with Helen in the beginning. It was only due to Anthony’s aggressive behaviour Adam ever agreed to switch places for the night; Anthony was the one who wanted to get away from his pregnant wife and be a single man again for a night, even if it meant pretending to be Adam. Once Anthony’s crazy behaviour goes over the top, it leads to him and Mary being killed in the car crash – this is Adam effectively killing off the side of him which strives to cheat on his wife. In reality, Adam and Helen are together, and the parts of the film involving Anthony and Mary are almost like the struggle involving his feelings of infidelity going on in his mind. You can see a real change start to happen particularly once Adam lays down in bed with Helen for the first time – I think this scene unlocks a lot of things.
These ideas also tie into the moments where we see the ominous spider stalking through the Toronto skyscrapers. Furthermore, the woman in the beginning about to crush the spider with her heel is sort of a representation of a woman being the answer to Adam’s search – the woman is literally going to crush the spider, the infidelity, underneath her boot. At the end of the film, Adam sees the giant spider in that room and we can see how he may have thought the thoughts of infidelity were killed off with Anthony – however, they were simply relegated to a room in his mind – because it’s clear the city itself is a sort of lifelike, realized world representative of Adam’s overall mind. Even some of the cover art points to this fact. I think, for me, this is one of the best explanations of the film. It works for my viewing. Maybe not for that of others.

1015996-rodeo-fx-enhances-villeneuve-s-enemyThis is by far one of the best films I’ve seen in the past decade or so. I love a movie which not only has what can be taken as a definitive meaning behind all the imagery, but also likes to play with the imagery in a way that can shock us, or push us to interpret, reinterpret, and so on. Villeneuve does a great job of weaving a fantastic tale here. He certainly leaves a lot to the imagination. I’m not saying my opinion on the meaning of this film is a definitive answer at all – there are many other great views on what Enemy truly means, and I think some of those are excellent, as well as very viable options as to a concrete theory. I happen to think mine, which is shared by plenty of others before me, is just one of the most interesting ways to look at the film. It’s a great one, and on the top of my 2014 releases – this didn’t make it out until last year here, even though it was screened plenty in the latter half of 2013. So please, check it out.
The Blu ray is also fantastic – there are a few special features you can dig into, including interviews with all involved. Wonderful picture and sound. Highly recommend this release. Denis Villeneuve is one of the best Canadian filmmakers ever to grace us with his presence. I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.

Prisoners: Guzikowski & Villeneuve Subvert the Usual Thriller

Prisoners. 2013. Dir. Denis Villeneuve. Written by Aaron Guzikowski.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano. Warner Brothers Pictures. 14A. 153 minutes.
Drama/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Movie)
★★★ (Blu ray release)

Denis Villeneuve has been on my radar ever since I was first able to see Polytechnique; a great little film about the awful Montreal Massacre on December 6th in 1989. Of course he’s also directed several other fascinating films including Incendies and another recent film again with Jake Gyllenhaal, the unique and, for some, the confusing Enemy. When I heard he was doing a film with both Hugh Jackman and Gyllenhaal, I got really interested. First of all because Villeneuve has a real talent for dark subject matter. Second, I love Gyllenhaal. After first seeing photos from production and the trailer, I couldn’t believe the look he had going for this film; it was thrilling. And last but not least, I think Jackman is underrated. Sure, he’s in tons of big budget films, and people know him very well, but I don’t think he exactly gets the praise he deserves. However, Prisoners changes the trajectory of his career, and I believe people should notice how good an actor he really is. While the entire film is also just about perfect, all these things come together to make Prisoners a dark modern classic.
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We’ve seen the story here probably more than we care to: young girls are kidnapped, police except for one crusader are inept, one of the parents takes the law into their own hands. Yet even though the story seems familiar, the plot Guzikowski weaves through it goes into very deep, dark territory. It isn’t the same thing we see time and time again. There’s something in Prisoners that taps into our fears, and it does so easily.

Essentially this is a lot like other thrillers on the same subject. Where Prisoners excels is the acting, cinematography, and of course the writing. The script is tight. Honestly, it kept me guessing until late in the game. What really gets me here is Roger Deakins. If you don’t know the Deak then what are you doing to yourself? I don’t even want to start listing the great films he has done as Director of Photography. Okay, okay, here’s a few: Sid and NancyHomicideBarton FinkThe Shawshank RedemptionThe Hudsucker ProxyFargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?House of Sand and Fog, JarheadNo Country for Old Men, and the film adaptation of Doubt, among many others. Deakins has an absolutely flawless eye for beauty on film. The way he does things is phenomenal. Prisoners has a very dark, gritty quality to it, but yet it is still pristine looking. The tone is absolutely set with the way Deakins shoots things. Villeneuve and Deakins must have had a grand time working together.
PrisonersAlthough Jackman is probably seen to be the star of the show, as his role is central to the plot, I think Gyllenhaal is the real star. Not that his performance is actually better than Jackman’s own, I just think his character is the most important.

Gyllenhaal plays Detective David Loki, although his first name can only be seen on his business card. Of course, a lot of people automatically pinned Loki as the eventual culprit in the kidnapping of the two girls; his surname is deceptive, and naturally many thought it was a key to some answers. First off, any screenwriter who would actually name the villain in their film Loki is way too ham fisted. It should be obvious, sooner than later, Detective Loki’s name is just a red herring. The character is far too interesting to write off with simple character nims. We get glimpses of Loki’s tattoos, as they’re all over his body. At one point, you can clearly tell Loki is wearing a Masonic ring implying he is most likely a member of the Masonic Lodge (for those conspiracy theorists out there this is just another herring – regular Masons, such as my father and grandfather and a ton of other people I know, are not taking over the world, they are meeting at lodges and doing community work such as fundraising and other things – but here it is meant, again, to throw you off from figuring out the real criminal). There are so many tiny eccentricities about Gyllnehaal’s portrayal of Detective Loki you could go on and on for days. It’s just one of the things, aside from Gyllnehaal’s excellent performance, that makes Loki work perfectly as a character in this film.
THE-PRISONERS9-1024x542Jackman, on the other hand, plays the simple character of Keller Dover. I only say simple because he doesn’t have any flair; there are no little mysterious bits about Dover. He is a man who has lost his daughter, and is willing to go to any lengths necessary needed to find her and bring her home. The intensity Jackman brings is no surprise. He strikes me as an intense actor once he gets going. What does surprise me are the quieter moments. And they are there. Some people pass the performance off as all brash, loud scenes with Jackman yelling, growling, et cetera.
What they neglect are the small moments. The few in the beginning with his son. Little moments in the middle. As well as some powerful, subtle scenes nearing the very end. It isn’t all outright intensity. There are some really small and touching bits we get out of Jackman. Although, my favourite scene is when Dover is interrogating a man he believes to be the kidnapper of his and his friend’s children, and there’s a hammer involved. I don’t want to ruin it – it’s not really violent in the sense someone gets hurt with the hammer – but it is totally worth it to see this part. I didn’t expect it. It was one of those scenes I actually paused and imagined how the other actors reacted to his performance. I can’t imagine there wasn’t at least ONE person who was genuinely frightened by Jackman after those takes. Apparently Villeneuve coaxed Jackman into being more vicious, and this take was the next one he did; of course, it made its way right into the film. Rightfully so.
p5I cannot find anything I don’t like about Prisoners. As a film, I can happily and confidently give it a 5 star rating. There will always be differing opinions, on any movie. I just don’t see how you can’t enjoy this one. The acting, even the supporting roles and smaller bits, was wonderful. The script, while centered on a topic often covered in film, is fresh, and doesn’t go down all the same roads other films tend to travel on; some may disagree again, but we’ll have to amiably agree to disagree. I think the plot here, the writing, the acting – it all works to create a really amazing, dark, and exciting film.

I especially love the end. Villeneuve could have went several ways on it, but the ending is beautiful. It is a quiet, subdued ending. It even gives an air of hope, even if things are grim. Even if they may still come out grim after all. But the finale gives a glimmer of hope, and I enjoy that. Though I do enjoy all things dark and gritty, this film really gave the ending the right touch with just enough hope while still leaving things on an ambiguous note.
prisoners-image02On the contrary, I can only give Prisoners a 3 out of 5 stars in regards to the Blu ray release. The picture itself? Absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography really jumps out at you on this release. I can’t complain whatsoever about the picture or the sound; it’s all perfect. Though there is a complete lack of any real interesting extras on the disc. There are two small featurettes which give you some interviews with the cast and crew, but other than that there isn’t anything. They aren’t particularly long either. So the release itself isn’t amazing, aside from the picture quality of course, and if that wasn’t perfect then there’d be no real reason to want the Blu ray anyways – quality is expected when it comes to the visuals. I just wish they had some more special features to dive into. Alas, no such thing.

I highly recommend this Blu ray. Even though the extras don’t really fill out the release, the picture is still absolutely worth it. What you’re coming for is the movie either way, and the movie definitely delivers. The running time is long, but it doesn’t feel long when you’re sitting there watching it. And the picture is really stellar, again – I can’t stress that enough. While I wanted more extras, I’m absolutely okay with the release simply on the basis that it looks incredible, sounds great, and the film is spot on.
What I’m rambling on about? Pay more attention to the rating I gave Prisoners as a film and less about the Blu ray release – and go get yourself a copy of this brilliant, thrilling masterpiece! It’s a real modern work of dark and thrilling art.