A Lead Role for a Woman Hijacked by the Script: SICARIO (2015)


I went to see SICARIO with a cohort last weekend and I must say that the film was thoroughly enjoyable. I saw it at the Landmark at the Westside Pavilion. It was my first moviegoing experience in LA, and I liked it a lot, in spite of the weirdo who kept making noises and squirming around in his seat throughout the trailers and the movie itself.

I liked the stadium-seating arrangement, so that the person in front of me wasn’t the same level as I was. That’s always a bonus for me because I’m used to those horrid seats at the Angelika in NY, as well as the standard-sized seating at AMC Loews near Lincoln Center, when people’s heads literally take a chunk out of your view. The Landmark’s seats were great.

What’s most noticeable of the film SICARIO is the sound design and how the soundtrack complements it. The sound design is mostly of moving vehicles or other forms of transport, e.g. helicopter, planes, cars in traffic, etc., and the soundtrack works to heighten the effect of those sounds. The soundtrack isn’t so musical but more noise-like while retaining a stylishness, which makes the movie feel alive.

The opening of the film was most stunning. It was more memorable to me than the ending (except for one of the final scenes–I’ll refer to it as the “dinner table scene”). I felt like the sound design, score and cinematography were superior to the script.

The cinematography was perhaps this film’s biggest selling point. Last Saturday, when Roger Deakins was at Landmark to give a Q&A, the 7:30PM show was completely sold out. Deakins’ filmography includes True Grit, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, Doubt, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, The Secret Garden, Jarhead–and plenty of others. With a veteran DP such as himself behind the camera, there’s no doubt that the film would have plenty to offer in terms of visual captivations.

What I found most wonderful were the shots of dust flecks moving in the sunlight or projector light. This happened at least twice, and possibly three times, in the film. It reminded me of ponderous shots of snow or rain, and characters trying to make sense of nature’s randomness, except in this case, the dust comes from manmade elements–the chaos is created by humans, and the humans trying to control it are they themselves part of the randomly moving particles found in occasional rays of light.

Deakins’ did not spare viewers with plenty of intimidating and beautiful extreme wide shots of desert mountains and terrains. There were also very close-to-the-ground shots of the road’s pavement, heightening the build-up effect. There were moments when it seemed like I was simply watching a bunch of people in cars moving from one point to another. Those scenes were long, and if it weren’t for sound and music there, they would’ve felt tedious. But being on the road through Deakins’ camera did feel like a treat. The night vision goggle shots were also effective in drawing out gripping moments, and my cohort even commented that the film reminded her very much of Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. 

I felt bad for Emily Blunt’s character. The film doesn’t dwell too much on the fact that she’s a woman and therefore perhaps more vulnerable to tricks and plot twists that work more and more against her. It also makes me wonder why female heros are almost always left behind without any resolve in their pitiful scenario in cinematic ends? The one major film that comes to mind right now is Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria. The ending of that film for Giulietta Masina is so profoundly pitiful and sad. In interviews, even Fellini himself says that he worries about Cabiria, and wonders if she is doing okay.

I don’t believe that Fellini or the screenwriter of SICARIO by actor/writer Taylor Sheridan were trying to say something about womanhood in these films on a conscious level. If anything, the films are more a display of their unconscious understanding of womanhood, and the films are materialized manifestations of those thoughts, and it’s that women are vulnerable, and the world won’t accommodate such vulnerability–in fact it will chew them up and spit them out after the flavor is gone. And because of this ending in SICARIO, I left feeling a bit sad and empty. The cinematic experience, however, was fully satisfactory. I thought Blunt’s performance was perfectly balanced and nuanced. I felt that it was more controlled and disciplined than Benicio del Toro’s, actually, and it seems that most reviewers somewhat unfairly credit him more memorable than Blunt, which is sad, especially since this is a film that centers on a female protagonist who plays an FBI agent. The ending leaves the viewer even wondering if the film is not more about del Toro’s character than Blunt’s, so it’s almost as if the storyline gets hijacked from the female protagonist and goes to the male supporting character.

This is the first film directed by Denis Villeneuve that I’ve seen, but Villeneuve has a pretty substantial filmography mostly of action films or thrillers. Word is that he is to helm the next Blade Runner movie.


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