As if coming out of the screen, this crime thriller feels gritty, real and made me as a viewer totally buy into this dangerous underworld presented throughout. The key word here would be tension which is applied generously from top to bottom and makes this story so tightly wound that you sit on the edge of the seat waiting to see when it will rip.
FBI Tactics agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is put upon a new team and case that gives her a chance to find out more about the clean-up operations she’s been on. Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a Department of Justice member heads this secretive mission to Mexico with Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) in tow. As they extract a prisoner from Juarez, Kate soon finds herself in a worrying circle of cover-ups and lies.
‘Prisoners’ director Denis Villeneuve brings that same dark touch to this gripping narrative. The film boils along nicely, truly exuding a sense of tension that works with this taut plot. The film has great moments, from a nervous traffic jam to a family dinner scene that shouts brilliant character and directing work. There’s also neat choices in the switch up of the world we are given. We slowly pan over surveillance screens which tell a story and near the end we find ourselves amongst a tunnel mission that flickers between usual cam, night vision and thermal imagery which makes the entire sequence feel more atmospheric. Villeneuve sure knows how to deliver in terms of thrills with smarts attached.
Taylor Sheridan does a masterful job with the screenplay, as he plants in attention grabbing scenes of explosive value but doesn’t rely on those moments to sell the story. The bubbling undercurrent is of intelligence and secrets and lies. The way in which we wonder why Kate is picked and there comes to expose a hidden exercise and then her declaration of intent to stay with them lets us in to more dangerous truths. Sheridan writes a good strong minded female protagonist that we follow and empathise with, though perhaps she really doesn’t get much win in the way of the men around her, a comment on this world maybe.
The style is present but never outdoes the substance which is great. It’s a film that makes you think and in this age of spectacle it’s brilliant to watch a movie that works on a more cranium level than CGI and green-screen. Of course in this threatening world of cartels and criminal lords there are explosions and gun fights but that works for Kate’s environment and lets us know straight away how high the stakes are for her position. Shots of Mexico are sprawling, the common long shot wide frames let us breathe in the city. A beautiful sunset is captured amazingly with shadows and light before the tunnel mission begins. It’s most defintley a Roger Deakins look and it boosts the film a lot.
Johann Johannsson returns with force after his stunning composing for ‘The Theory of Everything’. The music is packed with suspense, the foreboding sounds adding a whole weight of fear and danger. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with emotion too, there’s that feeling behind the score that makes you feel lost and saddened with this world also, another connective tool to Kate’s character.
The only niggle I had with this feature was with the presentation of a Mexican police officer which I guess they were trying to make us feel for and see how he gets caught up in the madness but the scenes with him weren’t engaging or long enough to make the punch near the end more satisfying. On the whole though, the little twists or real life sour ending makes this movie real and interesting.
Emily Blunt is exquisite and strong as Kate and leads through the majority of the film in her quest to uncover the reasoning behind her place on the team. The emotion she brings is great and puts us on her side from the get go. Josh Brolin steals the show in terms of lightness, there’s always something you can’t put your finger on with him but the surface layer of comedy works for that fake presentation. Benicio del Toro flat out steals the show as the mysterious Alejandro. The grimaces, the stern expressions and attitude to his job keeps you guessing and del Toro is just damn compelling. Daniel Kaluuya does a fine thing with his sidekick character and getting wrapped up in the world Kate’s invited into.
A savage watch with a constant trend of a tough and unfair world shown by direction, acting and writing talents. There’s a delightful balance of tragedy and threat throughout that keeps the thrills going through the run-time.