Tag Archives: Benicio Del Toro

Sicario Review

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Sicario Review:  An action movie worth the price of admission.

It’s rare that a day goes by without the news reporting trouble at the United States southern border. Between illegal immigration, and the infamous drug cartels, the border is a hot button issue no matter how you look at it. Our election cycles in the US inevitably revolve around what to do about those problems, and our government agencies burn through millions of tax payer dollars trying to combat the cartels. It’s a dangerous game, and an important issue. These topics are explored in director Denis Villeneuve’s latest movie Sicario. Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Bencicio Del Toro, it tackles the brutality of the Mexican drug cartels and those in law enforcement who stand in their way. The pedigree of talent both in front of and behind the camera left me salivating for more from the very first trailer I saw. Unfortunately this film just barely misses greatness. It comes close, but a few nagging issues hold it back.

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The movie begins with a drug bust in Chandler, Arizona. Emily Blunt’s character Kate leads an FBI SWAT force inside a dilapidated home. What they find inside is far more heinous than mounds of cocaine and illicit cash deposits. Hidden behind the dry wall, covering nearly every square inch of the home, are bodies. Corpses, heads wrapped in plastic, line the walls. It’s a gruesome, visceral sight to behold. This scene helps set the tone of the entire story and shows us the gravity of the situations we’ll be witnessing. From there Kate volunteers to join another task force who’s gunning for the head honchos that run the entire cartel. She meets Brolin’s character Matt, and Del Toro’s mysterious Alejandro. Both men seem to be more than they claim, though both occupy different ends of the character spectrum. Brolin is witty and a little more light hearted in all he does. When we first meet him he’s in a government briefing wearing flip flops. If a picture is worth a thousand words that one must be worth a million. To contrast Del Toro plays a more stoic, dangerous, but disciplined kind of man. He’s the titular Sicario, which means hitman in Spanish. Kate is told he’s just a government liaison, but it doesn’t take a genius to see he’s no pencil pusher.

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I won’t bother diving too much further into regurgitating the plot. There’s a great deal that needs to be seen and experienced first hand to retain it’s impact, and a great deal more that is very obvious and doesn’t need explained. As I mentioned previously this movie misses the greatness mark by just a hair. It lacks a concrete focus. Early on Emily Blunt’s character is our focal point. She’s our window to this nasty world. There’s some inconsistencies in the character, however. She’s both a seasoned agency veteran, and a wet behind the ears rookie. I felt like she was a completely capable agent, but she was never treated as such by her fellow characters. It’s possible that was the point of it all, but the way it was delivered didn’t work. It seemed more that they just didn’t know exactly what they wanted from that character. There was also an uneven emphasis on Del Toro’s character. Halfway through the film the focus seemed to switch to him, with Blunt disappearing for a little longer than she should have were this her film. Del Toro’s Alejandro story is a revenge tale, and an interesting one to boot. The cartel’s murdered his family and now he’s a gun for hire type of character brought in by various governments to take out problem players. Had the film picked one of these stories and stuck to it completely the film would have played so much better. Go all in on either side, rather than giving us a taste of both. If they wanted to have both stories, perhaps adding a third focus like Brolin’s character would have given more perspective. By making the film more of an ensemble than it was it could have smoothed out the jarring focus switching. A more polished script would have launched this film into greatness, as it has a whole lot going for it, but without it just ends up somewhat lukewarm.

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When this film works, it really works. The score is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time, and I left the theater with a piece of that music stuck in my head. The performances were all fantastic, Blunt especially. She takes what she’s given to work with and runs with it. Benicio Del Toro gives an amazing performance as well, though I’ve never seen him not do an absolute fabulous job. Josh Brolin holds his own as well, but I wished we got a little more screen time. The highlight of the movie, for me, was how it was shot. The cinematography was absolutely stellar. There’s a shot towards the end of the government task force walking towards a sun set and dipping into the inky black of shadow leaving only the breathtaking ambers and blues of the sky on screen. The music, actors, and cinematography make for a very good film, but the script keeps it from a great film. Close, but no dice.

I do recommend this movie. it’s got enough going for it that it makes for an entertaining film. Like I said, it’s a very good film, just not great. It raises some important points on some sensitive issues, and shines a light on a segment of the world population that would rather remain in the shadows. Catch it in a matinee and have a good time. It’s worth that much.

Throwback Review: Traffic: Fifteen Years On It’s Still Excellent

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Opening Credits: The Oscars are now closely looming on the horizon, which brings me to the end of my exploration of Best Picture nominees from previous ceremonies. This week it is worth looking at an excellent piece of work that came out in 2000 and was honored in 2001 with four awards, but was robbed of the big one. The movie in question is the Steven Soderbergh guided Traffic. It garnered him a well- deserved Best Director Academy Award as well as an award for Best Adapted screenplay and two others. It also had a brilliant cast that consisted of Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta- Jones, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro and Dennis Quaid just to name a few.

What I remember: When I first saw this movie in the winter of 2001 I came away underwhelmed. (A feeling which to this day I can’t quite understand.) This may have been due to the fact it received such praise and hype that I went in with expectations that were too high or because at the time I was unfamiliar with the work of Soderbergh, which I have since come to respect and like immensely. But, in those days I was pretty dismissive of it.

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It wasn’t until a few years later after seeing the phenomenal British mini- series Traffik, which it is based on, did I come to understand and respect it more. (If you’re looking for a heavy, but well put together mini-series to get lost in for a couple of days, you should get a hold of it.) After seeing it a second time, I thought it was a very good adaptation of the series that I was captivated by. However, after watching it a few days ago, I can say without hesitation that it is a fantastic work of cinema in its own right.

The Story: Traffic follows the lives of several characters all of which are directly affected by the so-called “War on Drugs” and are indirectly connected although none of them know it. There is the committed, highly intelligent public servant Judge Robert Wakefield (Douglas) who has just been appointed the new Drug Czar by his old friend the President of the United States, and who has been entrusted with fighting this war and limiting if not ending the negative impact that illegal drugs have upon all segments of society. The judge’s position is somewhat compromised by his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) a privileged adolescent who is a stellar student at an elite Ohio prep school, but is a habitual user of many different types of narcotics who is on the way to becoming a full blown addict. In Mexico, there is Javier Rodriguez (Del Toro) a decent, honest cop who tries desperately to combat the criminal drug cartels, dealers and distributors who send their products to the U.S.A. and cast a dark shadow on his country. Finally, there is Helena Ayala (Zeta Jones) whose husband Ramon a seemingly respectable businessman is being put on trial for working and distributing drugs for the Tijuana drug cartel and Montel Jordan (Cheadle) a DEA agent who is assigned to stakeout the Ayala household.

From there unwinds a tale that shows all aspects of the adverse actions that narcotics have on people from all walks of life. This is augmented by moments of suspense, intrigue, humor and gut wrenching pain. I hesitate to add any further details for if I did, it would reveal too much and deprive others of seeing this excellent picture.

Technical Details: Traffic is expertly crafted. The cinematography is wonderful and intricately thought out as the different elements of the story like those that take place in Mexico with Rodriguez in the east coast United States with Wakefield and California with Ayala, all have a different color palate and texture.

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Soderbergh’s directing is fabulous as the story weaves together exquisitely and the acting is top notch. (After seeing her performance again I can see why Christensen received such acclaim. Also, Michael Douglas is extraordinary as always as are Cheadle, Jones and Del Toro and surprisingly Topher Grace acts very well as the sociopathic rich kid who turns Caroline onto hard drug abuse.)

Lastly, Gaghan’s script is exemplary. Its characters and situations are startlingly real, but its dark subject matter is balanced moments of great and necessary humor.

End Credits: Traffic is a great movie. It is captivating, interesting, and original. It’s hard to believe it lost the award for Best Picture. The only flaw I can find in it, is that it ends by wrapping up everything presented in it into a neat package in a way that is a little too quick and somewhat clichéd. But, that one criticism aside, it is outstanding, as relevant today as it was when it came out, and can easily stand with any of the Best Picture nominees this year.