Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Top Ten Films of 2015: #9


You get Benicio Del Toro to appear in your movie, and it’s essentially an intelligence test: the smarter you are, the more screen time you give him. By this standard, Denis Villeneuve proves himself no dummy, ceding large swaths of “Sicario” to the Oscar winner and delivering on the promise of 2013’s brooding “Prisoners.” Ostensibly, it’s told from the point of view of Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an up-and-coming, by-the-book FBI agent selected (but not assigned; she is told she must volunteer) for a murky but clearly high-up government task force working both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border to bag the top kingpins of the drug cartels. Josh Brolin is highly appealing as her new shorts-and-sandals-wearing boss Matt, a self-labeled “DOD adviser” whose actual affiliation we learn only near the end, but who’s buddy-buddy with everyone who matters. Brolin has become an important and dependable actor, and here he shows the easy suavity and agility of a younger Pierce Brosnan. I also want to mention Daniel Kaluuya, a new name but a familiar face, terrific as Kate’s FBI partner, Reggie. Here’s an actor who understands the power of quietude, the confidence required to command the screen without raising his voice. The superb Jon Bernthal also has a small but pivotal role as a local Phoenix cop. But it’s the magnetic Del Toro who takes “Sicario” to another level as the on-the-ground fixer motivated by a past too painful to discuss. Villeneuve places himself in the firmament of top directors with a master class in technique, orchestrating a symphony of anxiety and dread from the engrossing set pieces in Taylor Sheridan's lean, taut script, Roger Deakins’ original cinematographical compositions, and the pounding, insistent score by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

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