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Roger Deakins offers up some of his very best cinematography in “Sicario”

86th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
There’s so much talent behind the film Sicario it’s almost scary. You have a cast that includes Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio del Toro, along with the supremely talented director Denis Villeneuve at the helm and the legendary DP Roger Deakins handling the cinematography. I’ve seen this movie twice in advance of its limited release this weekend and can vouch for it being excellent. In fact, it’s currently one of the ten best things that I’ve seen so far this year. 2015 still has a long way to go, but this is a memorable flick, to say the least, in no small part to the always excellent work from the legend that is Deakins. He’s yet to win an Oscar and folks, that’s a crime. Working again with Villeneuve after Prisoners, he’s got another shot to be in the running.

The film is a thriller about the efforts to win the war against drugs on the border that separates the U.S. and Mexico from each other. Blunt is an idealistic FBI agent in Arizona who is recruited by Brolin’s government agent to take part in a task force to stop one of the more brutal cartels. Along for the ride is del Toro’s shady character, who might have ulterior motives for taking down these dangerous men. As Blunt’s character is told, initially nothing will make sense, but in the end, it all will, and that’s the case for the audience as well. Villeneuve directs the script from Taylor Sheridan and in addition to the aforementioned Blunt, Brolin, and del Toro, the cast includes Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Victor Garber, Maximiliano Hernández, Daniel Kaluuya, and more. As previously mentioned, Deakins is the DP, with a score by another Prisoners veteran in Jóhann Jóhannsson. They all do excellent work here.

This is a bleak movie at times, one that happens to have a dark sense of humor running through it as well. Still, this isn’t a feel good flick, as it features sudden and shocking violence, a sense of nihilism about the fight at hand, and a determination not to go the Hollywood route. It won’t be for everyone, but Sheridan and Villeneuve are sure handed in how they put the material forward. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the main trio of Blunt, Brolin, and del Toro are so watchable and Deakins’ cinematography is to die for. It really helps in making Sicario the success that it is, especially when it comes to Deakins. This is his most high tech and modern visuals to date, making use of night vision, a bit of CGI, and more, in addition to his normal and excellent bag of tricks. It’s one of the best looking films of the year so far, bar none.

Awards wise, this might be a hard sell to the Academy, but there are a few spots where it really does have a chance. Obviously campaigns will be put forward in Best Picture, Best Director (for Villeneuve), Best Actress (for Blunt), Best Supporting Actor (for Brolin and especially del Toro), Best Original Screenplay (for Sheridan), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Original Score, but some are long shots. The realistic targeted campaign should focus on Actress (for Blunt), Supporting Actor (for del Toro), Cinematography, and some combination of the sound categories. Picture/Director are deserving in my book, but Oscar voters might find it just too bleak and upsetting for their tastes.

As a quick bonus, for those wondering, here’s how I would rank the ten best works from Deakins:

1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
2. The Shawshank Redemption
3. No Country for Old Men
4. Prisoners
5. Revolutionary Road
6. Skyfall
7. Sicario
8. The Siege
9. Jarhead
10. Fargo

Honorable Mention: Barton Fink, The Company Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, A Serious Man, and Unbroken

Emily Blunt Sicario

In the end, we’ll have to see how audience this week and all throughout September respond to Sicario, in advance of it going wide at the beginning of October. If it makes money, it could help in appealing to the Academy. Oscar potential aside, this is just a great flick and something well worth making time for. Deakins is the big highlight for me, but everyone goes above and beyond. Films like this aren’t always easy to watch, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t Definitely give this one a shot, and potentially stay tuned for much more on it as the awards season kicks into high gear…

Be sure to check out Sicario, which begins its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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