Sicario – Prisoners Part Deux

I spent a wonderful day at the movies last week. Sicario is currently playing in theaters.

Sicario

Sicario (2015) – Rated R

An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.”

I had heard a lot about director Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners before seeing it. I had heard that it was complex, nuanced, and uncompromising among other good things. It was a pretty decent film and he did get several very good performances from his cast but I didn’t really find it hype-worthy. Basically, Villeneuve stepped a little outside of the Hollywood mold but definitely not far enough.

Later, I saw the Israeli film, Big Bad Wolves. It was everything that Prisoners should have been – uncompromising, thrilling, and thought-provoking. It is currently available on instant Netflix so go watch it now, but for goodness sakes turn off your devices and pay attention.

Emily Blunt plays FBI Agent Kate Macer. I loved her as the subversive lead in the generically titled Edge of Tomorrow (a full year before Charlize Theron pulled the same trick in Mad Max Fury Road). To digress for a moment, Edge of Tomorrow is such a generic title that not only did it do poorly at the box office but when it received a home release, they rebranded it as “Live. Die. Repeat.”. To this day, many people think that is the name of the film. After all, it is actually in larger print than the title.

Emily Blunt is just as good here. She has a wonderful ability to project toughness without having it hinder her acting. Josh Brolin plays, well, a Josh Brolin-esque government agent named Matt Graver. He is a good solid actor but lately his parts can pretty much be defined as “Texan…”. He is a Texan mountain climber in Everest. Here he is a mysterious Texan agent. Unfortunately, there is no stretching of his acting abilities.

Benicio del Toro is suitably enigmatic, charming, and menacing as Alejandro. He is another actor who can act quite well but is often cast in roles he can walk through. In Sicario, his character is given a complex backstory BUT since the story isn’t really about him, it is glossed over and mostly delivered, disappointingly, as exposition.

Herein lies the crux of Denis Villeneuve’s issues. He is a director with a lot of good ideas and able to get good performances out of actors BUT he lacks subtlety and nuance. He wants to make sure audiences get it so many things are delivered by expository dump. That said the opening sequence is a stunner. The rest of the film is quite good but definitely by-the-numbers as Agent Macer gradually realizes how in-over-her-head she is and what lengths both sides are willing to take.

 

The Fan – Robert De Niro week

This week I’d like to celebrate one of our great American actors – Robert De Niro. Netflix has a slew of instant movies featuring De Niro including The Fan.

The Fan

PASS: The Fan (1996) – Rated R for strong language throughout and some violence.

“Directed by Tony Scott (Enemy of the State), The Fan follows obsessive knife salesman Gil Renard (Robert De Niro), who wants to turn things around for his favorite ballplayer, a slumping, high-priced star for the San Francisco Giants, Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes). De Niro befriends Snipes, but soon after, Snipes must struggle to keep the psychotic De Niro at bay.”

Thankfully Tony Scott tones down his normal directorial flourishes here – no bleached out color, no relentless jump cuts. Unfortunately he still loves his slightly off-kilter camera angles. He also pointlessly bathes an important sauna scene in red light. A pretty night shot of downtown buildings is severely overused.

Acting is good here. Wesley Snipes is quite good at playing the egomaniacal ball player. John Leguizamo is a lot of fun as the overactive Manny. Robert De Niro plays a obsessive baseball fan who gradually comes unravelled. Robert De Niro is excellent but the character seems like a simple aging/homage/ripoff of Travis (Taxi Driver) Bickle with a baseball twist. Ellen Barkin and Benicio Del Toro are good as well but aren’t really given anything to do.

The script is what ultimately sinks this film. It is clear that the writers have a love of baseball (though not Tony Scott as there are a huge number of baseball errors in the film). Wesley Snipes’ portion of the film is based on some old Babe Ruth chestnuts with some modern baseball commentary and Robert De Niro’s portion seems based on a combination of Taxi Driver and the more recent Falling Down (1993). Even though it is derivative the first two acts aren’t bad, just somewhat disjointed.

The third act is where it all falls apart and is utterly ludicrous – all suspension of disbelief is lost during a beach sequence (I try to avoid spoilers). Everything from that moment on will have you scratching your head and thinking, “what?!??”. Even if you try to accept what happens at the beach at face value, every scene after that gets even sillier.

Despite some really nice performances, I have to rate this one a Pass.

People Watch: Look for Jack Black who shows up briefly as a technician.