SICARIO (2015)

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An F.B.I. agent is recruited to join a government task force set up to fight the war on drugs in Juarez, Mexico and at the Mexican/U.S. border. A Sicario is a hired assassin.

When Nixon began the official ‘War on Drugs’ in the 1960’s, one would hope that he wasn’t aware of the true cost of this phony war. Hundreds of thousands have died because of it and the death toll doesn’t seem to be abating.

Denis Villeneuve follows his excellent Enemy with this film about the horrific consequences of fighting in such an unwinnable war. As long as these drugs are outlawed by America and the rest of the world the killing will continue. A serious dialogue needs to happen. The war is clearly not working; fifty years on and no sign of any end in sight.
He gives us a tale that eschews deep character development in favour of the bigger picture, but don’t be fooled, this technique works brilliantly by allowing the viewer to be drawn into this crazy, lawless world.

Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an F.B.I. special agent who is recruited by Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver, an agent who may not be who he initially appears to be and the great Benicio Tel Toro plays Alejandro, another member of the team whose story will be revealed in due course. Another Brit, Daniel Kaluuya plays Reggie Wayne, Macer’s F.B.I. partner and does a stellar job. Victor Garber is Dave Jennings, Macer’s boss and here, as usual he delivers a sturdy performance. And finally we have Jon Bernthal who, fortunately, is not featured massively. The long term readers of The Movie Musings will know how I feel about this actor, to précis, he acts too much, seems too aware of the camera and tics harder than a tic-tac-toe player on speed. Nuff said. Bernthal aside, everyone brings their A-game to a story that is both important and necessary. Sure, there have been many films about the Mexican Cartel already but if a story or a subject is worth investigating it’s probably worth telling again. Having just watched Narcos on Netflix this subject matter was interesting to me and Villeneuve gives us a different take on it. Here, he also spends time with the victims of this crazy war and seems much more sympathetic to their plight than the usual Hollywood pro-American stance.

Emily Blunt’s character is basically representing the audience in this piece; she gets to know what’s happening when we do, which makes this all the more exciting for the viewer. She plays a by-the-book agent and when thrust into this chaotic, unpredictable world she finds her morals and ideals compromised, as there really are no black and white solutions in this world. Grey areas are much more thought-provoking than tying things all up in a neat little bow.

Jóhann Jóhannsson delivers a killer soundtrack that is all atmosphere and greatly adds to the unsettling nature of the film.

On the subject of his score he says:
“I wanted to create music that had an underlying tension and a sense of coming from below the earth, like a throbbing pulse that resonates from underground or the pounding heartbeat of a wild beast that is charging at you. I also wanted to evoke the sadness and melancholy of the border, the border fences and the tragedy of the drug war.”

He succeeds massively creating this dark, brooding score that helps embed us, as onlookers, in the story, helped along by the screenwriting duties of actor, Taylor Sheridan.

I highly recommend this intelligent take on the effects of the war on drugs in America. Villeneuve is a director of weight and substance and as he has signed up to direct the new Blade Runner project, it may be worth a look.

4/5

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INHERENT VICE (2014)

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Set in 1970, private investigator Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello is visited by his ex-girlfriend who asks him to look into a possible sting operation on her current real estate mogul boyfriend by his wife and her lover and so, gets embroiled in a tangled web of secrets, Nazis, crazy dentists and tightly wound police men.

I like Paul Thomas Anderson and he is one of the few directors whose films I will definitely watch and always look forward to them.

Inherent Vice is very enjoyable, as complicated as may be; Anderson steeps us in this L.A. noir world that is unusually bright for a Noir film.

Adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s book of the same name, this is a journey through the complex world of a private detective, his ex-girlfriend, her housing mogul boyfriend and an array of weird and wonderful characters.

I haven’t read the book yet but will be doing so very soon.

The great Joaquin Phoenix plays the P.I., Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello whose penchant for the greener type of smoking infuses the film with a heady haziness that is a lot of fun once you accept it for what it is. The audience is mostly always on the same page as Doc, so the ride is as surprising to him as it is to us.

The cinematography by Robert Elswit (Anderson’s regular lenser) is stunning, filled with beautifully composed shots. He recently shot the fantastic Nightcrawler that is also set in L.A. mostly at night whereas Inherent Vice is filled with the L.A. sunshine.

This has the hallmarks of a cult film; there will be midnight screenings for the fans. It is not a film that gen pop will willingly go to, it’s too convoluted for most viewers who like everything neatly tied up and explained but for the adventurous amongst you, this will be a treat.

Anderson was introduced to me, like most of us via the superb Boogie Nights and he followed this with his opus, Magnolia. I went back and watched Hard Eight (cut to ribbons by the studio) which was an enjoyable mess (director’s cut anytime sooon?) and then Punch Drunk Love followed by There Will be Blood and The Master. All of these contain quality storytelling and although I had problems with There Will Be Blood (Daniel Day-Lewis’ incredible performance overshadowing the narrative) Anderson’s oeuvre is filled with incredible performances and always-interesting film-making.

Katherine Waterson (Sam’s daughter) plays the ethereal, Shasta Fay Hepworth and delivers a performance worthy of note; she literally lays herself bare both physically and emotionally. She is an interesting actor whose choices and skills are given free reign here.

The supporting cast are all excellent; Josh Brolin as the angry policeman, Bigfoot, Joanna Newsom as the film’s earth mother/narrator, Sortilège, Martin Short as the unhinged dentist, Dr Rudy Blatnoyd, Hong Chau as the masseur/prostitute, Jade, Eric Roberts as the real estate mogul and boyfriend of Shasta, Mickey Wolfmann, Serena Scott Thomas as his wife, Sloane, Michael K Williams as Tariq Khalil, Owen Wilson as the musician, Coy Harlingen and Benicio Del Toro as Doc’s lawyer amongst many very talented others.

Paul Thomas Anderson has always loved actors and he is definitely an actor’s director.
Special mention should go to Jonny Greenwood for creating a beautiful soundtrack.

This is a film for cineastes out there, those with an appreciation for all things cinema and I, for one, will be re-watching this at some point.

4/5

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