Sicario: a young SWAT member joins a ‘special activities’ task force that may or may not be as legitimate as they first appear. The acting, direction, and visuals are gorgeous and often spellbinding; the characters and plot however… not so much. Very little new ground is covered, particularly with the characters: a naïve by-the-book agent (Blunt), mysterious and dangerous man-with-no-name (del Toro), the charismatic but cynical and amoral team leader (Brolin), questionable American operations, yada yada yada. The central character – who is already an unnecessary audience surrogate – has an even more redundant BFF to more explicitly vocalise her thoughts and attempt to let the dummies at the back know what may be happening (not much is actually revealed until the last 20 minutes). There’s a few nerve-shreddingly intense scenes like the border crossing, tunnel raid, and the last supper; which are paired with bursts of ultra-bleak violence and very graphic gore, which make the movie more grisly – although these felt like they were chasing notoriety, and ‘sexing up’ the otherwise flat tone. The daytime scenes look fantastic, downside being that some of the low-light or night-vision scenes are harder to follow. While Sicario looks fantastic, has the big names, and some dark and memorable scenes it’s far less effective than a straight-up drama like Prisoners: it feels a bit like a Steven Seagal/SWAT plot viewed through another character, and with an arthouse guise – leaving me with the impression that it’s more a film for the critics than the public. Like the pacing, story, shots, and characters, Sicario is intentionally slow and steady.
Savages (mild spoilers): when two pro pot dealers have their shared girlfriend kidnapped by a cartel for leverage, they don’t take it lying down. This one is absolutely packed to the brim with torture, violence, action sex, drugs and rock & roll – it’s all turned up way past 11. All the characters are all pretty broad stereotypes, however it’s the cast and story that raise this above your standard gang-banger flick. Hell, it’s worth watching this just to see the scene with Del Toro and Travolta – each doing their thing and loving every second of it. For a 2hr30 film, it’s so packed with action and plot that it never drags: as it plays out like a dramatic chess match. Savages barely puts a foot wrong until it doubles back on what would have been a powerful, Shakespearian out-of-the-blue ending – instead copping out at the last second for a crowd-pleaser. The only real downer for me was a sloppy, grating, “ike-OMG-totally-I-was-like-and-she-was-all” So-Cal voiceover that does nothing more than point out the obvious – and annoy the shit out of viewers. After a couple of duffers, this one definitely puts Oliver Stone back on the cinemap, and with ample style to spare.
The Hunted: the FBI turn to a master survivalist/tracker to hunt down one of his former star pupils, who has since become a rogue special forces operative. Tommy Lee Jones is guilty of a little overacting, although he does spend most of the runtime poking, touching and staring at his surroundings for clues – so I guess he’s making up for that. Del Toro does his tried and tested stone cold killer routine, but with such dialogue-light characters neither feels properly developed. The underlying issue being that you should really be giving guys of this caliber deeper, more rounded characters to play with. The film’s cut well for the action scenes, with a few standout heavy-handed, bloody fights – however there are a few moments where Del Toro feels more like a bogeyman than a human. The film’s full of good locations, good story, good leads – but it somehow fails to fully engage or grip you. Biggest flaw is the lack of mood music, when it appears it’s very low volume, and makes the film feel flat, and vacuous. Director William Friedkin could have got away with spending less on big stars for empty roles, and more for big music over flat scenes. The Hunted starts off with a bang, but loses focus and audience by about the half-way mark, relying on big, macho action to keep interest up.
The Wolfman: Re-make of a 1940s Werewolf film, and probably just as lame and cheesy as the original! I can’t really sum up how bad this is in mere words but I’ll give it a go: it’s essentially a classic 1980s action flick with inane modern effects and a terrible story. This got more laughs than shocks in the cinema as it was just so cheesy, the highlight being Anthony Hopkins’ campy lord character – how they managed to con such a respected cast into this is absolutely beyond me. It’s far too reliant on cheap jumps / special effects, and the music is as bargain-bin as the script. It’s excessively gory, but even that doesn’t distract you from the cinema butchery. Despite the ‘expectations bar’ being set outrageously low this films still managed to comfortably limbo underneath. Avoid at all costs.