Tag Archives: Benicio Del Toro

Drugs ‘R’ Us

Tense, thought-provoking ‘Sicario’ is gripping, gut-punch thriller

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Sicario

Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin & Benicio Del Toro

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

R

A gauzy curtain wafts in the breeze early in Sicario, a gripping, gut-punch thriller about America’s “war on drugs” along our southern border.

The swath of fabric is a membrane-thin divider, its shape is constantly shifting, offering little protection from what’s on the other side, and you can’t really see clearly through it—great metaphors for everything that happens in French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s visceral, thought-provoking saga about an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who joins a task force to track down a brutal Mexican drug lord.

Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro are members of a covert task force tracking a brutal Mexican drug czar in ‘Sicario.’

After informing us in the opening that its title is a Mexican word for “hit man,” taken from a term for zealots in ancient Jerusalem who hunted and killed Romans that invaded their homeland, Sicario starts with a bang—literally. An armored vehicle explodes through a brick wall, and things don’t soften up for the next two hours.

After Blunt’s agent Macer leads a raid on a suburban home just outside of Phoenix that turns out to be a house of horrors connected to a Mexican drug kingpin, she’s all aboard to help a governmental black-ops cowboy (Josh Brolin) and his even shadier partner, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), shut him down.

There’s more to the mission than that, as Macer—and we—find out. Like Blunt’s assignment, and the war on drugs itself, nothing in Sicario moves in a clean, straight line, nothing is really as it appears to be, and no one can really be trusted—or can they?

Director Villeneuve likes working taut, tough and raw; his previous films include the brutal revenge thriller Prisoners (2013), with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, and the Oscar-nominated mystery drama Incendies (2010). Here he steers his outstanding cast through a murky maze of escalating tension, ratcheting suspense and ghastly acts of violence. Quickly, Macer’s moral compass starts to spin out of control; she can’t sort good guys from bad, tell right from wrong, or even keep track of which side of which line she’s on.

Benecio Del Toro

Blunt is phenomenal, charging through the movie as the audience surrogate, making us feel every nuance of Macer’s journey from determination to disillusion. In a performance that seethes with mystery and menace, Del Toro speaks volumes with simmering silences—and can inflict pain with only his finger. As the gum-smacking, flip-flop-wearing special operative, Brolin may not always play by the rules, but he sure knows how to “stir the pot that causes criminals to react.”

Sicario has an all-star team behind the scenes, too. Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins gives everything his meticulous master’s touch, and a haunting soundtrack by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson pumps, prods and pushes the drama along like a throbbing electronic heartbeat. In a movie where almost everything stands out, several scenes stand out more, including a freeway traffic jam that erupts in a lethal shootout, and a gripping “night-vision” blackout raid on a desolate desert tunnel used by the cartel. It’s terrific, first-class filmmaking.

How far is too far to go to fight a war that may never be won? Sicario doesn’t have an easy answer, but it sure makes you think hard about the question.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Across the Universe

Marvel’s newest superheroes are an inter-galactic gas

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana & Dave Bautista

Directed by James Gunn

PG-13

Marvel Comics gives their all-stars a breather with Guardians of the Galaxy. But Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and other tried-and-true, brand-name superheroes had better watch out: This flip, witty, wily, cheeky, action-adventure sci-fi yarn—which introduces an all-new Marvel team of cosmic crusaders—is all set to become one of the summer’s biggest, most buoyant mainstream hits.

Based on little-known Marvel characters that first made a brief appearance in the 1960s, the Guardians are a motley crew of space misfits led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt from TV’s Parks andguardiansofthegalaxy530439f7bb98f Recreation), who was abducted from Earth by alien pirates as a youngster and taken to the far reaches of the galaxy, where he grew up to become a rogue smuggler with an intergalactic price on his head, a taste for retro FM rock and a weakness for extraterrestrial hotties.

When Peter swipes a silver orb that turns out to be something Very Powerful Indeed, it puts a series of events in motion that eventually congeal the other guardians around him—although not necessarily as teammates, at least at first.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a genetically mutated, green-hued assassin sent to retrieve the orb. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a motor-mouthed raccoon bounty hunter, is in cahoots with Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a tree-like creature that speaks volumes with the one sentence he can speak, “I am Groot.” And pro wrestler Dave Bautista is Drax, a hulking wall of red-tattooed muscle.

guardiansofthegalaxy5371066e4ab7aTheir adventures bounce them, like interplanetary pinballs, across the galaxy, racing away from—and sometimes into—an ever-growing cloud of trouble. Director James Gunn, at the helm of his first mega-budget, major studio project, creates a teeming sci-fi cosmos of colorful creatures, humanoid hybrids and dazzling digital effects for a totally immersive eye-candy experience. Everywhere the movie goes—and it’s constantly going somewhere—it’s a wild, exuberantly fun new kick.

The cast is first-rate, even down through the supporting ranks. Glenn Close plays the matriarch of a gleaming utopia on the brink of destruction; Michael Rooker is terrific as the swaggering scavenging scoundrel who abducted Peter all those years ago; Benicio Del Toro is The Collector, a mysterious curator of cosmic odds and ends.

But it’s the Guardians, the mismatched team of “losers,” who command the spotlight. And credit the zippy script, by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, for the steady stream of jaunty comedic banter that just keeps the laughs coming—along with a sprinkling of sweetness, a dash of sadness, and even a flash of romance, orchestrated to Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”

Will it remind you of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and several other movies, some references to which it just goes ahead and hands you? Sure, but that’s just part of its big, fizzy, movie-lovin’ funhouseguardiansofthegalaxy53bd964656849 spirit. “It’s got a Maltese Falcon kinda vibe,” Peter says of the orb. One scene, when Groot gently gives a young girl a flower, is an obvious nod to a similar moment in the 1931 classic Frankenstein.

You may see classier movies this summer, and you’ll certainly see more serious, sensible ones. But you won’t see another one that takes you on such a rollicking carnival ride halfway across the universe and back, and leaves you with such a big, goofy, satisfied smile when it’s over.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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