The war on drugs is an idealistic proposition. Ridding the world of destructive stimulants would be an unprecedented victory but it isn’t one that’ll be achieved through lawfulness and morality. With millions, if not billions, of dollars on the line, monstrous drug lords and their vicious mules aren’t deterred by authority. Nor are they considerate of the innocent humans who become collateral damage. So, how do you kill the boogeyman? You become him. Or at least that’s the working theory in Dennis Villeneuve’s absorbing Sicario. We’re propelled into the drug war when FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) raids an Arizona house that has decomposing bodies lined in its walls. Disturbed and inspired to take action, Kate takes up an offer to join a special task force focused on finding the culprits behind such an atrocity. Under the guidance of Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his mysterious partner, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), Kate and a crew of operatives slip over the Mexican border seeking justice. As she encounters ambushes and the desecration of human flesh, both from her “lawful” brethren and the cartel’s pawns, Kate’s idealism quickly dissipates. Her stomach and conscious are filleted in real-time, and suddenly the divide between good and evil is as visible as an atom.
Much like he did in the underrated Prisoners, Villeneuve doesn’t concern himself with explosive set pieces. Instead, he slowly builds tension through menacing settings and nauseating ambiguity. One of the film’s best scenes is perfectly set up by a disconcerting drive through a dilapidated Mexican city, where rundown buildings and bodies hanging from an overpass insinuate trouble on the horizon. The images Villeneuve strings together are terrifying, but the framing of his three main characters is even more off-putting. Blunt’s performance is powerful, compelling, and the perfect entry point to a world fit for a horror film. Josh Brolin’s Matt comes across as a giddy child simply tickled by the opportunity to ruffle feathers across the border, while del Toro’s Alejandro is a silent assassin whose emotionless face hints at a man with no inhibitions or capacity for remorse. Watching these three characters collide only enhances the danger Villeneuve surrounds them with. With wonderful cinematography from Roger Deakins and a sickening score from Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sicario is an oppressive dissection of a war that simply can’t be won without losing our humanity.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (4/5)
High school is an awkward time for everyone because we all don’t know what the fuck we’re doing. We’re pretenders drifting through the same crowded hallway. Social miscues are inevitable, romantic fumbling occurs, and there are moments where we simply wish we could drift from class to class like a ghost. The impact of high school is a tale that’s been exploited by cinematic creators for years. Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Spectacular Now dissected the high school life with open eyes and sincerity, relying on stories built around small, singular moments instead of benchmarks and the relationships over the seismic events. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl continues what the aforementioned films started. We are quickly introduced to Greg (Thomas Mann), a human groundhog determined to navigate his high school life without much attention. Greg’s disinterest in formal relationships, especially in groups of people, keeps him on the fringe of human contact. He’s so far removed from commitment that he won’t even call his defacto friend, Earl (RJ Cyler), anything but a business associate. Tom’s meek existence crumbles when his mother coerces him into befriending Rachel (Olivia Cooke), an earthly sprite battling leukemia. As seasons pass Greg and Rachel become friends, exposing one another to fragments of their lives that could only be found in diaries.
Their relationship undoubtedly faces challenges, especially when Rachel’s leukemia gains more territory in her body, but their platonic investment in one another never waivers. Deftly and warmly directed by Alfonso Gomez Rejon, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a film that sneaks up on the viewer. Even though it features overly peculiar characters and exuberant idiosyncrasies often found in smaller, independent productions, the film’s exploration of life and death is sincere and full of profoundly moving moments. Naturally, there are weeping fits but the film doesn’t exploit Rachel’s disease for token tears. Rather, it explores the impact of the disease with maturity, grace, and humor, allowing us to see the impact it has on not only its host, but also those within its radius. Deepening the film’s impact is the strength of the film’s cast. The chemistry between Mann, Cyler, and Cooke is endearing, especially when they’re in the midst of haphazardly remaking films, an activity Tom and Earl have been partaking in for years. There are distinct weaknesses present throughout the film’s run time- an abrupt ending and some tonal issues but they don’t keep Me and Earl and the Dying Girl from being one of the more moving film experiences of the year.