Film Review: Sicario (dir by Denis Villeneuve)


If you told me that I had to describe the new film Sicario in just one word, that word would be “overwhelming.”

And then I’d get really mad at you for making me sum up my feelings about Sicario in only one word.  Sicario is a great film, one of the best of the year so far.  It’s a film that works as both an exciting thriller and an examination of the grim reality of the Mexican Drug War.  It’s a film that may anger you and it certainly won’t leave you feeling very optimistic as far as the endless, corrupt, and unwinnable war on drugs is concerned.  And, ultimately, it is a very overwhelming viewing experience, one that quite literally left me breathless.

And what’s frustrating is that I really can’t tell you as much about Sicario as I might want to.  Sicario is a film about secrets and, if I reveal even one secret, I risk messing up the experience of watching the film for you.  And that’s something that I would never want to do because Sicario is a film that deserves and needs to be seen and experienced.  And this is a film that you should go into with as little advanced knowledge as possible.

So, I’m going to ask you trust me here.  I’m going to ask you to believe me when I tell you that Sicario is a great film but that I can’t tell you the exact reasons why.  It’s a film that comes at you disguised as being a typical action film and then it sets about defying every single expectation that you might have.  I have been so conditioned by watching so many action films that I constantly found myself assuming that I knew what would happen next.  And, nearly every time, Sicario proved me wrong.

Here’s what I can tell you.  Kate Marcer (Emily Blunt) is a FBI agent who, after discovering an Arizona house that is full of dead bodies, is assigned to a joint task force that has been tasked with taking down a Mexican drug lord.  Kate finds herself working for Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who works for a government agency that he consistently refuses to name.  Idealistic and naive, Kate is shocked by Graver’s ruthless methods and confused as to why she’s even been assigned to work with him.  (Kate continually complains that Graver’s operation seems to have no purpose and that his methods are often illegal.  Graver usually just smirks in response.)  Also working with Graver is the enigmatic Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a Columbian lawyer who says few words and is surprisingly good with a gun.

Up until the film’s final 30 minutes, we see nearly the entire story through Kate’s eyes.  And, much like Kate, we spend much of the film confused.  We struggle to figure out just what exactly it is that Graver is trying to accomplish and just how exactly Alejandro fits into his plans.  Emily Blunt gives a great performance as Kate but, at the same time, the film cleverly subverts our expectations about what we expect to happen with her character.  After all, we’ve seen Looper.  We’ve seen Edge of Tomorrow.  And when Sicario begins, we have every reason to expect that this is going to be another film where Emily Blunt is going to kick everyone’s ass.  And, make no doubt about it — Emily Blunt does get to kick some ass in this film but this film suggests that, in the end, it doesn’t matter if you kick everyone’s ass.  Certain things just cannot be changed.

And then there’s Josh Brolin, who is wonderfully glib as Matt Graver.  You distrust him as soon as he appears on-screen but he still remains a compelling enigma.  But, ultimately, this film belongs to Benicio Del Toro.  If there was any doubt that Del Toro is one of the greatest actors working right now, Sicario should dispel it.  When we first meet Alejandro, he seems like he’s just a burned out shell of a man.  We look at him and we assume certain things about his character and we think we know exactly what is going to happen with him.  At first, Del Toro gives such a quiet and introverted performance that it’s almost easy to forget about him.  But then, as Sicario reaches its violent and thought-provoking conclusion, Del Toro suddenly steps forward and take over the entire film.  Even after we learn his big secret, Alejandro (and Del Toro) continues to surprise us.  It’s a great performance and it will be a great injustice if Del Toro is not, at the very least, nominated for an Academy Award.

Along with Del Toro, the other great stars of the film are cinematographer Roger Deakins and the director, Denis Villeneuve.  Villeneuve may not be a household name but he’s one of the best directors working today.  He’s a filmmaker who can use the conventions of genre (the action genre in this film, the mystery genre in Prisoners) to tell a story about how people are living now and why things are the way that they are.  (In many ways, Denis Villeneuve is Steven Soderbergh without all the pretentious affectations.)  Villeneuve’s skill as a director is on full, thrilling display in four separate set pieces, each of which is full of heart-pounding tension and sudden violence.  As for Roger Deakins, he captures images of Mexico and the south Texas that feel almost alien in their ominous beauty.

Sicario is one of the best films of the year.  See it!

My 2012 Emmy Nominations

So, for the past few days, I’ve been happily hopping around my section of the Shattered Lens Bunker and do you know why? 

Because it’s awards season, that’s why!  With the conclusion of the 2011-2012 TV season, Emmy ballots have been mailed and votes are being cast and, come July, we’ll know which shows and performers have been nominated for the 2012 Emmys. 

Before that happens, however, I would like to play a little game called “What if Lisa Was Solely Responsible For Picking the Nominees.”  Here’s how it works — I looked over and studied the complete list of the shows and performances that have been submitted this year for Emmy consideration.  And then, from that list, I picked my personal nominees.

(A complete list of every show and performer that’s been submitted for Emmy consideration can be found here.)

Below are my personal nominations in the major Emmy categories.  Again, note that these are not necessarily the shows and performers that I believe will be nominated.  Instead, these are the shows and performers that I would nominate if I was solely responsible for picking the nominees.

A complete list of my nominations in every single Emmy category can be found here.  (And yes, there’s a lot of Lifetime on the list.  There’s also a lot of Community.)

Best Comedy Series

Bored to Death (HBO)

Community (NBC)

Girls (HBO)

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Raising Hope (Fox)

Veep (HBO)

Best Drama Series

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Breaking Bad (AMC)

The Client List (Lifetime)

Downton Abbey (PBS)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Homeland (Showtime)

Pan Am (ABC)

Ringer (The CW)

True Blood (HBO)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Outstanding Miniseries or Movie

Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Five (Lifetime)

Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Hatfields & McCoys (History Channel)

The Hour (BBC America)

Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Outstanding Variety Series

Conan (TBS)

Fashion Police (E)

Key and Peele (Comedy Central)

The Soup (E)

Tosh .O (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Variety Special

Betty White’s 90th Birthday Party (NBC)

Celtic Women: Believe (PBS)

The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen (Comedy Central)

TV Land Awards (TV Land)

Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV (Showtime)

Outstanding Nonfiction Special

Bobby Fischer Against The World (HBO)

Catholicism: Amazed and Afraid (PBS)

Crime After Crime (OWN)

God Is The Bigger Elvis (HBO)

6 Days To Air: The Making of South Park (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Nonfiction Series

America in Primetime (PBS)

American Masters (PBS)

America’s Most Wanted (Lifetime)

Beyond Scared Straight (A&E)

Inside Story (Biography)

Outstanding Reality Program

Antiques Roadshow (PBS)

Dance Moms (Lifetime)

Kitchen Nightmares (Fox)

Scouted (E)

Storage Wars (A&E)

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program

The Amazing Race (CBS)

The Bachelor (ABC)

Big Brother (CBS)

The Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)

Hell’s Kitchen (Fox)

Project Runway (Lifetime)

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)

Survivor (CBS)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series

Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

Johnny Galecki in The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Danny McBride in Eastbound and Down (HBO)

Joel McHale in Community (NBC)

Lucas Neff in Raising Hope (Fox)

Jason Schwartzman in Bored To Death (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Jeffrey Donavon in Burn Notice (USA)

Damian Lewis in Homeland (Showtime)

Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead (AMC)

Timothy Olyphant in Justified (FX)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Idris Elba in Luther (BBC America)

Rob Lowe in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Steven Weber in Duke (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Dominic West in The Hour (BBC America)

Ben Whishaw in The Hour (BBC America)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl (Fox)

Lena Dunham in Girls (HBO)

Tina Fey in 30 Rock  (NBC)

Julia Louis Dreyfuss in Veep (HBO)

Mary-Louis Parker in Weeds (Showtime)

Martha Plimpton in Raising Hope (Fox)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama

Claire Danes in Homeland (Showtime)

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Ringer (The CW)

Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Client List (Lifetime)

Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife (CBS)

Elizabeth McGovern in Downton Abbey (PBS)

Anna Paquin in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Kristin Davis in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Anne Heche in Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Rose McGowan in The Pastor’s Wife (Lifetime)

Emily Osment in Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Sara Paxton in Blue Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series

Charlie Day in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)

Danny DeVito in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Donald Glover in Community (NBC)

Nick Offerman in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Danny Pudi in Community (NBC)

Matt Walsh in Veep (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama

Bruce Campbell in Burn Notice (USA)

Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Giancarlo Espositto in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Michael Pitt in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Alexander Skarsgard in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Powers Boothe in Hatfields and McCoys (History Channel)

Justin Bruening in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Hide (TNT)

Sir Roger Moore in A Princess For Christmas (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Tony Shalhoub in Five (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy

Alison Brie in Community (NBC)

Kristen Chenoweth in GCB (ABC)

Anna Chlumsky in Veep (HBO)

Gillian Jacobs in Community (NBC)

Cloris Leachman in Raising Hope (Fox)

Aubrey Plaza in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in Drama

Christine Baranski in The Good Wife (CBS)

Kristen Bauer Von Straten in True Blood (HBO)

Kelly MacDonald in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Christina Ricci in Pan Am (ABC)

Sophia Turner in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Deborah Ann Woll in True Blood (HBO)

Supporting Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Tammy Blanchard in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Kaley Cuoco in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Lisa Edelstein in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Jessica Lange in American Horror Story (FX)

Jena Malone in Hatfields and McCoy (History Channel)