‘Sicario’ Review

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo P. Saracino, Maximillano Hernandez, and Edgar Arreola.

Synopsis: 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.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The War on Drugs is something that has been done on film before and some have been done with great success, but director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan have done something special with Sicario. The film gives an unapologetic, rare and bleak look on the subject and one of the most intense and effective thrillers I’ve seen in a while.

 

Sicario opens with FBI agent Kate Macer, the leader of a kidnap and response team in Arizona, who with her team that includes her partner Reggie Wayne (Kaluuya) raid a house that has dead bodies inside the walls. The raid and discovery puts her on the radar of government agent Matt Graver (Brolin), who decides to bring her in to his operation of taking down a head of one of the Mexican cartels. When she bought she also meets Alejandro (Del Toro) who, according to Matt, is a “liaison” but never tells her from or what to. As the operation goes on, Kate soon realizes that everything around her may not be as clear cut as it seems. More importantly, can she trust the people around her?

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Kate acts as our surrogate into the drug war and specific situation they are trying to pull off in the film. Thankfully, Emily Blunt gives another reliable performance and makes us believe her as she is thrown into a world she doesn’t completely understand and well trying to get answers, she is pushed to the side and kept in the dark. Blunt truly is one of the best actresses in Hollywood today and being the lead in the film like this is refreshing to see. They could have easily put a man in the lead role – and they almost did, but Villeneuve and Sheridan protested – but it probably wouldn’t have worked.

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However, despite Blunt’s great performance, Sicario belongs to Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro. It takes a while to finally figure his character out, but Del Toro gives us enough to be interested in him until that point. Hell, his character doesn’t say too much at the beginning of the film and even other people see him they stiffen up a little bit. Del Toro has always been on people’s radar, but it feels like recently he is getting a lot more attention, and he deserves it. Alejandro is definitely one of Benicio Del Toro’s best characters and maybe one of the best characters of the year.

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The rest of the cast fare well in the roles they are given, although the film really does belong to the main actors. Josh Brolin looks to be having fun chewing up scenery as his cocky, brash and laid-back government agent that is always keeping Kate in the dark right up until the end. Daniel Kaluuya’s Reggie is loyal to Kate through-and-through and has a nice scene that breaks all the tension from the rest of the film that shows you how close the two characters are. Victor Garber pops in as Kate and Reggie’s boss, Jeffery Donovan also pops in as another government agent that Matt works with and is equally mysterious and cocky. Finally Maximiliano Hernandez, who fans will know as Agent Sitwell from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plays a Mexican police officer, Silvio serves a great purpose to the overall theme of the film than you would think.

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Speaking of the theme, Sicario has a lot going on and thankfully it doesn’t get lost too much in them. I don’t really want to give any of them away, but as you can assume with the film being about going after one of the bosses in one of the cartels in Mexico, things are going to get a bit murky. Yes, Taylor Sheridan is saying something about the war on drugs, and quite honestly it could be what many think, but there is something about how Sheridan and director Denis Villeneuve are saying about it that makes the film, like I pointed out earlier, unapologetic

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Finally, the last bits that make Sicario all that more effective and great is the chilling and atmospheric score by Johann Johannsson that really elevates a lot of the tension filled scenes. Seriously, Sicario is jam packed with tension from beginning to end, and some nice twists that believe me, the trailers really don’t give away. The other great thing about the film is some of the cinematography by one of the best in the business, Roger Deakins. Some of Deakins shots that are mixed with Johnnsson’s score are just so great by themselves, but mixed with the themes and what leads to them makes the film more worthwhile at the end.

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All in all, Sicario is lead by great performances by Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and more importantly Benicio Del Toro. The film is unapologetic, raw, and bleak, along with being an effective tension filled thriller that I have experienced in years. Will it be for everyone? No, the film is tough and heavy to watch, but layered underneath all that, is a great film.

Sicario

5 out of 5

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‘Hitman: Agent 47’ Review

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Dir: Aleksander Bach

Writer(s): Skip Woods and Michael Finch

Cast: Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Thomas Kretschmann, and Ciaran Hinds

Synopsis: An assassin teams up with a woman to help her find her father and uncover the mysteries of her ancestry.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: There is a mid-credit scene.*

 

Video game movie adaptations have a rough hill to climb. For one, they take away the interactive aspect of it all, and forces you to watch –essentially– an entire cut-scene. The other – which is the main reason – is that they aren’t always very good, in fact, a lot of the time they are downright terrible. The problem with Hollywood is that forget most video games are fun to play and they take away that fun and make the films just a tad more serious than they probably should be. In other cases, it’s the studio or creative team thinking they can create something on their own and use the basic skeleton of the video games, which is often the reason the films fail. In the case of Hitman: Agent 47, the reboot tries to inject some more aspects of the video game, but still fails to bring a descent adaptation, despite two solid leads.

 

Hitman: Agent 47 starts off by telling us what and when the “Agent” program started. The program was to create Agents, genetically modified assassins, but was eventually shut down. However, a corporation called Syndicate International, lead by Le Clerq (Kretschamann), is looking to restart the program and to do so they need the lead scientist of the program, Litvenko (Hinds). They believe they can find him through his daughter, Katia (Ware), who is also looking for him for personal reasons. So they send John Smith (Quinto) to find her and bring her in, but Agent 47 (Friend) is after them as well with his own agenda.

 

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I did enjoy, for the most part, 2007’s Hitman with Timothy Olyphant as Agent 47, but with this being a complete reboot, Showtime’s Homeland’s Rupert Friend takes over the role and I have to say, he’s a little bit better in the role. Agent 47 is a bit of a tough character to crack in the sense that he’s a genetically modified assassin that had all his feelings stripped away from him. It is really all about the actor playing him and the charisma he brings along with his body language and style. You want to feel this guy is going to kill you and isn’t going to stop until that happens. Friend does bring most of that to the table, and for the most part. Friend brings that Terminator-esque vibe at the beginning as he calmly walks toward Katia and John Smith in a train station. However, I should say, in case you didn’t know, Paul Walker was originally intended to star before he sadly passed away.

 

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Probably one of the best cast members is newcomer Hannah Ware. Katia acts in some ways as the surrogate to the audience and the world of Agents. She plays a rather important part to everything going on, and if you have avoid the trailer – since one of them actually gives it away – I won’t spoil it here. But, it’s a pretty nice addition to the potential series, if they continue making them. Her character at one point feels like she’s going through a “tutorial level” with Agent 47 telling her how she has to deal with her surroundings. Ware does thankfully hold her own and gets involved as much as possible in the action.

 

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The villain side unfortunately doesn’t hold up too much. Thomas Kretschmann’s Le Clerq feels like he’s suppose to be main villain, but sends most of his screentime inside his specially designed safety office. That said, Zachary Quinto, who is really a henchman for Le Clerq becomes the primary villain for us. Quinto, who is usually reliable, doesn’t really deliver as the villain here. He doesn’t really do too much, sure he has some pretty intense fight scenes with Friend’s Agent 47, and he has an interesting character trait, but his character just lacks a bit. Ciaran Hinds, who isn’t a villain, gets a small but descent role as Katia’s father and creator for Agent program. Hinds is reliable as always and it’s kind of a shame he didn’t get more screen time since he brings the heart to the movie.

 

So despite the two solid leads in Friend and Ware, Hitman: Agent 47 does have its faults, and unfortunately those faults do take you out of the movie a bit. For one, a lot of the CGI takes you out of it. Some it works, but a lot of the time it just doesn’t look good at all. Sure the movie is low budget, but it shouldn’t have affected the CGI too much. Even some of the action sequences – which were put together by John Wick directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch – are great to watch, especially the beginning set-piece, but director Aleksander Bach makes some weird editing choices that don’t help the scenes out in any way and even makes them a bit hard to watch.

 

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One little tidbit that I thought could have added to the movie is having more world building. It looked like Fox was setting up for a franchise and there were some great opportunities for Fox to build that up a little more. They tried with a character named Diana (Angelababy), who looks to be Agent 47’s contact, but it was the scene at the end that really tries to build up the world, but by then it is too late.

 

All in all, Hitman: Agent 47 has some problems that take away from the movie a bit, but with its leads in Rupert Friend and Hannah Ware you can overlook them (for the most part). While it’s not the best video game movie adaptation – there’s also some nice nods to the games – it certainly isn’t the worse.

 

Hitman: Agent 47

3 out of 5

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‘Run All Night’ Review

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Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra

Writer(s): Brad Ingelsby

Cast: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Common, Vincent D’Onofrio, Genesis Rodriguez, and Bruce McGill

Synopsis: Mobster and hit man Jimmy Conlon has one night to figure out where his loyalties lie: with his estranged son, Mike, whose life is in danger, or his longtime best friend, mob boss Shawn Maguire, who wants Mike to pay for the death of his own son.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

We have grown accustom to seeing Liam Neeson kick major ass and shoot people in the last few years. I know that sounds like there is a “but” coming, but I assure you, I love watching Neeson beat the crap out of people half his age as much as the next person. The nice thing though is that Neeson tries to bring something – if he can – new to every role. In Run All Night, he does it again and we better enjoy it if Neeson’s claim about hanging up his action film boots in the next couple of years is true. If they are, Run All Night will be one of the great ones we can look back on.

 

Run All Night follows aging hitman Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) – once known as the Gravedigger – who is a bit down on his luck, a drunk, and is forced to taking some handouts from his best friend, and mob boss, Shawn Maguire (Harris) and Shawn’s son Danny (Holbrook). As you have seen in every ad for the film, Jimmy ends up shooting Danny when he was going to shoot Jimmy’s son, Michael (Kinnaman), for reasons I’ll leave out of the review, and after the events they are put on Shawn’s hit-list. The estranged father and son must outrun Shawn’s men, the cops, and a hitman named Price (Common).

 

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Overall the story is simple, but it does have some layers to it which is welcomed because otherwise it wouldn’t be as good as it was. The film takes a bit to get moving, but it serves to set up the relationship between Jimmy and Shawn, which is one of the strongest components of the film. However, director Jaume Collet-Serra fumbles other aspects of the film that either slows the film down or some really questionable decisions that can irritate you.

 

Collet-Serra tries to make New York City its own character in the film, but at the same time makes it feel cheesy. When there is going to be a new scene, the camera zooms out and makes a CGI transition to the new location where it will zoom in. That kind of thing works better in a video game and not in a film. I don’t want it to sound nitpicky, but it is does feel out of place here and distracting, the good thing is it doesn’t happen every time.

 

The action is fine, Neeson changes up his usual fist fights for shootouts, expect for a bathroom brawl. The set-pieces work well enough, although Collet-Serra messes around with the editing at moments that make it hard to know what’s going on or see the action. The highlight of the film is definitely an early car chase and a burning building action sequence.

 

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As for the actors, Neeson as Jimmy is always reliable and is again here, although he will probably play his least sympathetic character here for some. Jimmy does love his son, even though Michael wants nothing to do with him. He also doesn’t want his son to end up like him and constantly tells him not to fire a gun. Joel Kinnaman does okay as Jimmy’s son Michael. Kinnaman balances some lack of sympathy for Jimmy and danger as he is being chased down by every hitman and cop in the city.

 

Ed Harris as Shawn is great and it’s kind of a shame he’s not in it more, but his scenes with Neeson are the best scenes in the film. They play well off each other and you can really scenes the friendship, brotherhood, and history they convey in those scenes. Common pops in as hitman Andrew Price, who is this unstoppable force in his very limited scene role. Common has shown he’s a good actor in the right role, but anyone could have played this role really even though he handles himself well.

 

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The rest of the cast is filled out by Boyd Holbrook who plays Danny, who has a significant amount a screen time before he bites the dust. Bruce McGill plays Shawn’s right hand man and even though McGill is a great actor he is heavily underused, to the point that I think he only has a few lines of dialogue. Genesis Rodriguez plays Michael’s wife Gabriela who doesn’t really add much to the story and finally, Vincent D’Onofrio plays Detective Harding, who is trying to get Jimmy to confess to his crimes and make a deal with him. There is also a cameo appearance by a well-known actor that really comes out of nowhere and I was left wondering why there weren’t more scenes with him in the film.

 

All in all, Run All Night stumbles a bit when it slows down, but when it comes the action and the cast, it is a great time to watch.

 

 

Run all Night

4 out of 5