The UnPopular Opinion: Sicario
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
It has been four years since I took over writing this column and in that time I have endured the accusations of being a troll and writing these reviews simply to get a rise out those who read them. I swear up and down that each and every one of these is my sincere and honest opinion, unpopular or not. Sometimes many of you agree with me and other times you rip me a new one. In celebration of my 100th UnPopular Opinon, I am tackling a film that many listed as amongst their favorites of 2015. I am here to tell you all that not only is SICARIO one of the most overrated films of the last year but it is also one of the most overrated films of all time. Hitting triple digits on entries in this column will not be resulting in any pulled punches or half measures. Time to rip Denis Villeneuve's film apart for the mediocre and boring film that it is.
To start, I will say that I am a big fan of Villeneuve's work. When it was announced that he would take on BLADE RUNNER 2, I thought it was a brilliant choice. Villeneuve's films may not instantly cry out sci-fi noir, but his composition and tone setting are perfectly suited to carry on Ridley Scott's vision. Both INCENDIES and ENEMY are claustrophobic and Kafka-esque while PRISONERS is by far one of the best films of the last ten years. But with SICARIO, I cannot help but feel that the film is empty. Yes, Roger Deakins provides some stunning cinematography that was deserving of the recognition that always comes with Deakins work, but the movie overall just rings hollow and doesn't seem to be big enough to capture the massive scope of the story it is trying to tell. Villeneuve and director Steven Soderbergh share a lot of qualities as filmmakers, but where Soderbergh's TRAFFIC succeeded, SICARIO fails.
SICARIO tells a story similar in vein to the short-lived FX series The Bridge. That series, starring Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir, followed both sides of the crime and drugs moving between Mexico and the United States. Specifically centered in the city of Juarez, the show suffered from too much melodrama and too slow of a pace. But, by giving us a balanced look at both sides of the border, The Bridge delivered where SICARIO does not. When your story is about a war on a concept rather than a specific enemy, you have to really try to anchor your tale in some way. We are meant to follow Emily Blunt's character of Kate Macer as she becomes more involved in a task force aiming to take down a major drug cartel. It sounds like the perfect stuff for a big screen feature, but this is a Denis Villeneuve production which means the scale becomes focused on key characters. In this case it is Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro. All three are excellent actors and bring some stellar work to this film but the movie itself just doesn't work.
If you think about the best moments in SICARIO, you can likely name a handful of scenes. These are undoubtedly some masterfully executed sequences but likely not encompassing of the entire film. If I had to name the most memorable scenes I would include the opening raid, Blunt's violent date with Jon Bernthal, the nighttime raid, and the scene involving Benicio Del Toro and the dinner table. All are perfect examples of cinema of the highest order, but purely from a technical standpoint. The problem is SICARIO wants us to pay attention but doesn't give us anything to pay attention to. Yes, it is driven by a realistic approach to the material and has some truly impressive special effects shots you likely didn't even know were there, but the parts of the movie that truly hooked viewers are all centered on Del Toro's mysterious Alejandro Gillick. It is no wonder that Del Toro will be the focus of the sequel to SICARIO while everything else is left behind.
Not all films have to be social commentaries or responsible to the material they are presenting. But, when your movie presents itself as unlike other films telling similar stories, you have to live up to the label of at least being unique. Where Villeneuve's PRISONERS took a gut-wrenching plot and twisted it into a knot before slowly unraveling in the most Hitchcockian manner, SICARIO ties up plot threads into a similar knot and yet doesn't do anything with it. We begin the tale introducing Emily Blunt to this world and it finishes with her more nihilistic and defeated that at the start. On one hand, that could be the intended message SICARIO wanted to express, but is it the right one? The film switches so quickly between action thriller to political investigation that it becomes almost impossible as a viewer to give a shit about the fates of anyone on screen. The biggest problem with SICARIO is also the best part of the movie: Benicio Del Toro.
If I were to rank the greatest movie scenes of the last twenty years, the dinner table scene would be right in there. Hell, I may include it if I were ranking the last fifty years. Del Toro's character is a deeply wounded person whose scars have healed and given him a numbness that makes him both relatable and terrifying. He is like Liam Neeson in TAKEN crossed with Jack Bauer from 24. The title of the film is SICARIO, which means hitman, and yet we spend almost two hours waiting to see how the title truly relates to the movie we are watching only to have it unfold as a secondary plot device. I have seen so much critical praise heaped on SICARIO that I was positive there was no way it could suck. Unfortunately, it does. This is not a slight on the technical achievements or the acting in any way. It is primarily a shortcoming of the writers and ultimately the director who executed the film that should have ended up very differently.
Some of you may find it difficult to understand how I can praise a film in so many ways and yet still say it is a bad movie, but I can name quite a few others that fall into the same category. James Cameron's TITANIC is a monumental achievement in film history, but it is not a very good movie. SICARIO is a film that was praised and lauded and hit countless top ten lists but it is also a film that will quickly fade from memory of movie fans and critics. We will talk about SICARIO when Del Toro appears in STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII as an example of his acting caliber. We will mention it when Emily Blunt slums it in THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR. What we will not do is talk about the movie as a whole. SICARIO is a collection of good elements strung together between quite a few tedious and mediocre ones. That in itself should disqualify it from being considered one of the best movies of last year.
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