Tagged Hitman

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.

Tackling Racism & Xenophobia with Honour

Honour. 2014. Directed & Written by Shan Khan.
Starring Aiysha Hart, Paddy Considine, Faraz Ayub, Shubham Saraf, Harvey Virdi, and Nikesh Patel. Code Red.
Not Rated. 104 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2

There are several reasons why I really enjoyed Shan Khan’s Honour. First, Paddy Considine. He is a fine actor, as well as director, but here it’s really put to the test. He plays a highly unlikable man for most of the feel, though we do see him become someone else through the process. Second, the script is really fantastic; it’s edgy, raw, there is grit to the themes within. Essentially, the story is about a young British Muslim girl who is targeted for honour killing after her brothers discover she plans to run off with a young Punjabi man. After their attempts to reel her in slowly come to a drastic and failed end, the family, along with the mother, hire a bounty hunter in London to track her down, and it just so happens he is a racist; though for a racist, he certainly knows the culture, even their language, well.honour_4-729x1024In a day and age where there is a lot of conflict over extremists and fundamentalists in various religions around the world, I can imagine it was tough to make a film about Muslims and honour killing. The film is a tough one in every respect. At times it is brutal, violent, messy. Other times it comes across as a great crime thriller. The script is tense. The story is told on film in a non-linear fashion, giving us a look at what led to the family’s decision to kill the daughter. Khan did a great job with the script, plus it translated well to screen.
The acting came top notch here. I was very impressed with Aiysha Hart who played Mona, the young girl on the run from her own family, as well as Faraz Ayub and Shubham Saraf who played her brothers. Considine was absolutely incredible though, and it’s his performance which truly shines above all else. The look and feel of the film was gritty, something I always enjoy. How everything looked, dark and sort of grim, really fit the subject matter and the tone of the film.
All in all I have to give the film a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Everything worked together to create a really wonderful film.
image007The message is presented through Considine’s character. In the beginning, he is truly racist; he hates Muslims, any person of colour. Even though he deals with Muslims, he seems to have a disdain for them. He has white supremacist ink on his body, including an Aryan tattoo, which he later tries to singe off. By the end, after he has come to see the inner workings of the extremist Muslim circles and he sees his own behaviour mirrored in their fundamentalist, violent beliefs. Through others and their hatred, the character understands his own, or better yet he comes to reject it, understanding it is only hate, it is nothing but thoughts and misconceptions and foolish notions.
A must-see film. I highly recommend it. I don’t give it a full 5 stars, only because I felt there was something missing. Perhaps a little more of the past behind Considine’s character, though we get bits and pieces, would have made it a perfect film. Regardless, it’s still an incredible movie. It inspires hope, that people who hate can turn around, somehow, some way.