Rating: The Good – 77 Genre: Crime Duration: 121 mins Director: Denis Villeneuve Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Cold and sinister narco-thriller with Emily Blunt top-lining as a FBI agent recruited by the CIA for a series of clandestine operations against a powerful Mexican cartel. As the missions begin to increasingly circumvent the law, the beleaguered agent grows suspicious of Josh Brolin’s lead agent and ever fearful of his mysterious cartel expert, Benicio Del Toro. After an admirable attempt in Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve succeeds in crafting a morally bleak thriller with sufficient traction and believability to keep the audience engrossed all the way through. The war on drugs is articulated almost completely through the actions of the protagonists. The drama is shot with a slow-thudding realism while the dialogue chills the story a couple degrees lower. Left of centre to the plot, Blunt is subtly magnificent as she manages to stay relevant even while her character is necessarily marginalised. On the other side of things, Brolin is quietly having a ball but Del Toro is just plain scary. The narco-wars are very much in vogue at the moment but on several occasions, Sicario peels off a layer or two and reels us towards a world not often seen. Yes, the narrative moves inescapably towards Hollywood’s notion of closure but there are a sufficient number of unfamiliar twists and turns to intrigue the most ardent fans. Roger Deacons’ crisp textures and contrasts are central to this experience as is Joe Walker’s editing but it’s Villeneuve’s steely focus that makes this so darkly compelling.
Rating: The Good – 70.1 Genre: Action, Crime Duration: 131 mins Director: Oliver Stone Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Benicio Del Toro
Oliver Stone has to work hard these days to make up for two decades of over-stylised not to mention confused pictures and such is the reason that this surprisingly slick crime feature fared poorly both critically as well as commercially. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Taylor Hitsch star as two wildly successful cannabis dealers on the California drug scene who come up against a ruthless cartel attempting to stake their claim north of the border. As the genius botanist, Taylor-Johnson is the brains of the operation while Hitsch’s former Navy SEAL is the enforcer and together they engage Salma Hayek’s drug lord in a bloody chess game as they attempt to secure the release of their hostage girlfriend Blake Lively. Factor in an utterly loathsome and genuinely scary Benicio Del Toro as Hayek’s right-hand man and you’re left with a colourfully twisted little thriller. Nested in Lively’s inevitably stylised visual narration, Stone allows the energetic if sometimes clunky script to play out in a relatively coherent manner as he shows the most directorial restraint he’s managed since Born on the Fourth of July. Make no mistake, it’s vibrantly shot and edited with flair but with enough discipline for the visual aesthetic to not only be enjoyed, but also be complementary of the well conceived set pieces. On the acting front, the leading threesome (as improbable as their relationship is) are satisfactory without shining and while much fun is had with an overwrought John Travolta’s crooked DEA agent, it never detracts from the the darker tones that Stone’s story paints. It all adds up to a rather satisfying crime thriller that should be judged on the merits of that genre’s most essential elements.
Rating: The Good – 73.4 Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy Duration: 121 mins Director: James Gunn Stars: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Benicio Del Toro
Yet another comic book blockbuster from the Marvel stable of sci-fi fantasy. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are the eponymous heroes whose self-interests bring them together against a common foe who, like every other super villain these days, will settle for nothing else but the destruction of the galaxy. What saves this film from the black hole pull of a mind-numbingly familiar genre is the fresh sense of fun James Gunn brings to the script and its direction. The characters are drawn and played out with a care-free irreverence that drives the movie as a whole. There are no erroneously earnest pauses in tone to allow for some heavy handed emotional button pushing – well, none that aren’t cleverly rescued in time. Guardians of the Galaxy is a joke and everyone’s happy to play it that way. It all lays the groundwork for some genuinely side splitting humour, most of which, involves Cooper’s talking and brilliantly mental space rodent.
Though Pratt is a wonderfully unassuming lead with lots of self-deprecating charisma and Bradley is in rich vocal form, most of the credit must still go to Gunn. Making a funny movie doesn’t just require you to write funny but to direct funny and armed with his anthology of vintage pop tracks and a very wry sense of editing, he rocket propels the humour in his script. Okay, so a few of the jokes are taken a step too far but most are delivered with polish. And when we’re not laughing, the simply astounding visual effects ensure that we have something impressive to look at too and, while it never escapes the CGI look, the movie remains an immaculate piece of visual artistry. On this canvas, Gunn (particularly early on) crafts some dazzling action sequences and the ceaselessly fantastic gadgetry and conveyor belt of amazing aliens adds handsomely to their enjoyment.
Where the movie inevitably falls flat however, is in the wearingly repetitive plot that seems no different to that which the likes of Thor, The Avengers, or any number of the endless comic book adaptations (that we’ve been utterly plagued with these last five years) have offered up. Plots that seem to serve no other purpose than to provide a platform for endless battles and flashy explosions. For all the good this movie does with its character construction and comedic dialogue and for all the ingenuity of Gunn’s action, the brain eventually just switches off during these protracted sequences because the premise is too flimsy to support them. It’s part of Hollywood’s magic formula so it won’t soon change but anyone who doesn’t have the hormonal constitution of a 14 year old boy, is liable to find this movie’s visual narrative veering towards 3rd act tedium. Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy wraps up at just under two hours and while still perhaps 15-20 minutes too long, it’s a damn sight shorter than most other modern comic adaptations. Alongside its richer character and dialogue base, that saving grace, gives Gunn’s movie a significant edge on the generic horde of superhero vehicles.
Rating: The Good – 88.8 Genre: Crime Duration: 106 mins Director: Bryan Singer Stars: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro
Supremely captivating noir-ish crime thriller that spins an intricate tale about a group of elite hijackers who are brought together by an outside force and get mixed up with crooked cops, drug dealers, and an underworld boss who nobody is sure exists but everyone is scared of. This is one of those films that redefined the genre and, in doing so, it set a new standard for every subsequent crime film. High school buddies Bryan Singer (director) and Christopher McQuarrie (writer) became household names after this one and it’s not difficult to see why. McQuarrie’s hugely original and slick writing combines perfectly with Singer’s taut and stylish direction to give this film a truly unique look and a feel. Most of the actors on show give career best performances. Spacey got the Oscar but he is matched by Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, and Chazz Palminteri. However, this is undeniably Gabriel Bryne’s film as his broody, charming, and serious Dean Keaton more than any of the other character sets the tone for this film from start to finish. A special mention of John Ottman’s dual role is appropriate also as he not only gives us one of the most memorable scores of the 90′s but is also responsible for the film’s super slick editing.
Rating: The Good – 78.1 Genre: Crime, Comedy Duration: 102 mins Director: Guy Ritchie Stars: Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro
Take your average Coen Brother’s film with all its twists, turns, and overlapping story lines, make every character a stone cold hardshaw, and shoot it full of steroids. You get Snatch! Guy Ritchie’s follow up to Lock, Stock and Two Smokin Barrels about illegal boxing rackets, gypsies, stolen diamonds, and unkillable ex-KGB agents is a frenetic powerhouse of a film defined by charismatic performances (Pitt, Statham, Farina, and Alan Ford are particularly brilliant), a sensational soundtrack and score (kudos to that maestro John Murphy), supercool direction, tremendous sound production, and a razor sharp script that will keep you laughing throughout. The “greedy as a pig” speech in particular will have you on the floor.
Rating: The Good – 83 Genre: Action Duration: 121 mins Director: Christopher McQuarrie Stars: Ryan Phillippe, Benicio Del Toro, James Caan
Stunning actioner written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (he who wrote The Usual Suspects). How this one slipped under the public’s radar is hard to tell but if you haven’t heard of it, make sure you see it and prepare to be blown away! Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe play two down-on-their-luck hit-men who stumble across an opportunity to kidnap a woman (Juliette Lewis) doing surrogate mother duties for a big noise with mob connections. A complicated pursuit begins in which her ruthless bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) on one side and the mob’s bag-man (James Cann) and his accomplice (the always excellent Jeffrey Lewis – Juliette’s father) on the other, attempt to out-manoeuvre each other for their own reasons.
The Way of the Gun is every bit as edgy and original as The Usual Suspects with some action set-pieces that will leave your jaw on the floor. Even more so than in The Usual Suspects, McQuarrie favours intelligence over explosions and the result is a lot of heavy hitters going head to head in a game of tactical gun play, the likes of which, you’ll never have seen before. Del Toro and Phillippe are sensational in the lead roles with the latter being a true revelation. In fact, the acting from all parties is well above first rate which isn’t surprising because the actors are given one mouth-watering line after another to chew on. This is without doubt one of the freshest and coolest screenplays written for an action movie and the words capture the momentum of the story with all the lyrical precision of a classic film-noir. As with the best scripts from that genre, this one is flush with subtext which that cast and director tease out with exquisite half-glances and discretely shot mannerisms. The plot is fully engaging and is replete with one fascinating character after another and when the vast majority of those are all seasoned tough guys, there’s only one place this is heading. It might not be as slickly shot a film as The Usual Suspects is but it’s one hell of a film in its own right and easily one of the best action thrillers to come out of Hollywood in decades. Do Not Miss.
Robert Rodriguez’ adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel is a tour de force in conceptualisation and story-telling. Shot on digital video against green screen to give the effect of comic book pages coming to life, it tells three main stories that are interwoven into one overall tale of life in a city dominated by corruption, murder, sadism, and men and women of steel. This is hardcore squared as one mean mutha goes toe to toe with another until not one is left standing. Mickey Rourke’s Marv is the Alpha in this tale and the segment dedicated to his all-or-nothin revenge rampage is indisputably the best. Rourke is electric as the man mountain and with his gnarly voice being married to his digitally enhanced visual frame he becomes an awesome sight. The direction is truly inspired and elegant almost beyond belief. Rodriguez deserves the lion’s share of the credit obviously but he is aided by Frank Miller himself and Quentin Tarantino who did the tar pit sequence. The final sequence involving Bruce Willis’ character is the most visually arresting and wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Wilder or Welles film from the 40/50′s. Sin City is a singular film going experience and not to be missed if you’re a fan of graphic novels, film noir, action, or just plain great movies.
The story of drug trafficking from Mexico to the United States is explored from all sides in Steven Soderbergh’s hugely impressive adaptation of Simon Moore’s miniseries. Moore’s miniseries was groundbreaking in its own right and Soderbergh’s feature does it justice and then some. Michael Douglas leads the star studded ensemble cast as the new US drug czar in Washington whose daughter is a drug addict. Benicio Del Toro is a Mexican state police man caught between his desire to see the drug cartels smashed and the inherent corruption of his country. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the wife of a wealthy drug distributer in San Diego who has been arrested by DEA agents Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman. Soderbergh used different gradings for each of the interlinked vignettes with each colour grading reflecting the dominant theme of the location. All perspectives are sewn together with Cliff Martinez’ soft score (recorded in mono) and Steven Mirrione’s equally soft editing. At two hours and twenty minutes, it’s a long watch but if anything it needed to be slightly longer to better account for Zeta-Jones’ character. However, Traffic is nonetheless an outstanding achievement in story telling but more important is its bravery as it attempts to show the cold hard reality of the drug world while explicitly choosing not to provide any token answers.