“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do.”
Everyone should question authority when inside the incredibly dangerous drug world. There is my 10, well 11-word review of this stark, memorable drama about a female law enforcement officer fighting the drug war the best she can. Once she’s voluntarily placed on a special anti-cartel task force, the real face of the drug world reveals itself with every character firmly adhered to this living and frustratingly dynamic problem.
Emily Blunt’s award worthy performance showcases a strong skilled FBI agent named Kate Macer who’s overwhelmed in an unfamiliar, complicated web all in the name of “making a difference”. She makes several personal sacrifices and compromises while remaining loyal to the overall cause, which includes her partner Reggie, played by British actor Daniel Kaluuya (Johnny English Reborn).
The subject matter is so bleak that it’s hard to see how this grippingly emotional film could entertain audiences, but it does with unpredictability and careful content decisions with elements of mystery, thrills, chases, and battle tactics. Lives are always sacrificed in the drug world and life reaches a disturbing point of devaluation in these proceedings. Filmmakers retain highly emotional results because they simply keep the worst acts of violence (torture, etc.) off-screen while putting the always ugly results on full display.
It’s worth the effort to swallow this bitter pill because the film’s narrative questions, prods, and exposes the drug world like never before with its’ realistic tone, actions, and acting performances. Audiences can easily envelope themselves into this world thanks to the cast, especially Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Maximiliano Hernandez (Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
The screenplay, the first written by actor Taylor Sheridan (TV’s Sons of Anarchy), eventually leads Kate along the U.S.-Mexico border as the audience who usually see the drug issue from the outside and through the news media get a close account as filmmakers and auteur cinematographer Roger Daekins provide amazing, realistic views including a thermal imaging sequence shot on set with a FLIR SC8300 thermal vision camera.
This amazing sequence showcases filming the thermal imaging technology and demonstrates welcome progression in a film industry that has come since the first notable thermal imaging sequence in the awful 2002 Rollerball remake. This well placed sequence features amazing point-of-view (POV) camera shots that can convince audience to slip into the characters’ POVs even more among a world that ebbs and flows through cartel power struggles, vicious threats/violence and selfish money grabs.
You know something’s off on the law enforcement side when you see dodgy task force head Matt, played by Brolin (Men in Black III, W.) wearing sandals alongside strict suit and tie law enforcement heads including Dave Jennings, played by Victor Garber (TV’s Alias). These law enforcement leaders somehow bend to Matt’s will and seemingly arbitrary whims so engaged audiences will definitely want to know the reasons behind Matt’s authority of targeting the drug lord Manuel Díaz, played by Bernardo Saracino.
The mysteriously independent Alejandro, played by Del Toro (Traffic) has a silent, but strong performance where he slowly reveals his motives and purpose to everyone except Matt. He has the knowledge to meet his objective and the will to fulfill it.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) and his quality crew also expand the perspective with through a Juarez law enforcement officer, played by Hernandez in an amazing performance, and his family. Hernandez holds his own among the lead trio while audiences see how anyone who voluntarily chooses to participate in the drug world becomes tragically engulfed while suffering personal loss and beyond. Jon Bernthal makes a similar contribution as a character with motives that only add more confusion, questions and emotion.
The musical score by Jóhann Jóhannsson captures emotions for the audiences and the filmmakers’ visuals so memorably. Filmmaker also incorporate foreshadowing and prophetic dialogue for unique additional touches that enhance an already worthy screenplay. After multiple award nominations and wins, there should also be some Oscar noms and wins for this one, especially in the cinematography category for twelve-time Oscar nominee Deakins (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men).
Harrowing and well-paced look into the drug world as Blunt has our hearts as her mind tragically adjusts to a bleak war. Del Toro and Brolin have vital performances that eventually reveal the true motives/situations. Highly recommended (***1/2 out of four stars) and now available now on home video.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler