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Sicario 2: Soldado

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2015’s Sicario was a coming together of several brilliant talents. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who also delivered great scripts with Hell Or High Water and Wind River; director of photography Roger Deakins, who drew closer to his elusive Oscar; the fine acting chops of Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin; the ever improving director Denis Villeneuve, whose subsequent films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 cemented his standing as one of the finest directors working in Hollywood. 2018’s Sicario 2: Soldado reunites Sheridan’s writing with Del Toro’s enigmatic Alejandro and Brolin’s bullish yet principled Matt Graver, but minus the other prominent figures with Stefano Sollima behind the camera and Dariusz Wolski on lensing duties. New cast members include Isabela Moner, Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener and Elijah Rodriguez, their presence expanding the scope of this follow-up. Concerns over terrorism and pirating give the film a more global flavour, although these elements serve more as a distraction than contextualisation. The film’s subject matter feels ripped from the headlines as immigration is a prominent feature, much of the film involving Mexicans illegally entering the United States. While there is (currently) no wall, there are certainly obstacles as well as opportunities for those willing to exploit the desperate. Into this potent mix Matt sends Alejandro, with the goal of starting a war between drug cartels. The film is efficiently put together, with several gripping set pieces including a gruelling gun battle on a deserted desert road. Oddly, the film’s more affecting moments are quiet interchanges, especially between Alejandro and Isabel Reyes (Moner), daughter of a cartel head that Alejandro takes custody of. Their relationship is engaging, while Matt’s clashes with his government superior Cynthia Foards (Keener) and Secretary James Riley (Matthew Modine) highlight the political agenda. Unfortunately, these disparate elements are not cohered, while a subplot involving young Mexican-American Miguel Hernandez (Rodriguez) never convinces. Worse, the film lacks the nihilism of the original, and in its final act there are several moments that could be shockingly cruel, but instead the film loses its nerve and takes the narrative beyond its natural conclusion. The border has many interesting stories, but this is one of the lesser ones.

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2017: Review of the Year

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A little late, it’s time to re-pile stuff in front of the Christmas decorations, resume speculation about summer holidays before realising way too late that the prices have risen, and to reflect on the previous year in film. As always, there was far more I wanted to see than I was able to due to time and money constraints, with my total of 2017 releases (in the UK) coming to a grand total of 51. Even working from such a small sample, however, 2017 was a brilliant movie year, in terms of the sheer range in quality that helped me appreciate afresh just how much is out there. From Oscar upsets to Marvelous blockbusters, long-mooted sequels to alluring animation, 2017 offered much and delivered more than it disappointed. Of the 51 releases I saw, these are my top twelve, in musical form:

On the twelfth day of Christmas

The movies gave to me

Twelve Ragnaroks

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Eleven Hidden Figures

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Ten runs with Logan

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Nine men in Moonlight

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Eight Blade Runners

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Seven pregnant mothers!

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Manchester By The Six

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Five Red Turtles

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Four Wonder Women

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Three Handmaidens

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Two Detroit riots

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And escape from the beach at Dunkirk.

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And now, with review tweets and full access to my archive, here are Vincent’s Views of 2017 in full.

Top Twelve

  1. Dunkirk

A ruthlessly efficient, relentlessly tense, mercilessly immersive triptych on trauma, time and terror.

  1. Detroit

A harrowing, immersive, unflinching portrait of prejudice, brutality, societal tension and being the wrong colour in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  1. The Handmaiden

An exquisite, sumptuous, erotic portrayal of an intriguing, labyrinthine tale.

  1. Wonder Woman

A dynamic, inventive, witty and diverse superhero adventure of duty, will, evil and love.

  1. The Red Turtle

A beautiful, haunting folk tale of survival, solitude and transcendence.

  1. Manchester by the Sea

A beautifully composed, exquisitely painful, warm, witty and moving portrait of family, grief and community.

  1. mother!

An exquisitely unhinged, utterly delirious, relentlessly deranged, headlong charge into unmitigated chaos.

  1. Blade Runner 2049

A spellbinding, suffusive, mind expanding exploration of identity, humanity and mediation.

  1. Moonlight

A haunting, soulful, beautiful, exquisitely balanced exploration of identity, sexuality and belonging.

  1. Logan

A brutal, melancholic and intimately violent portrayal of running from and living with your past.

  1. Hidden Figures

An enlightening, compelling and inspiring story of mathematics, race, technology and history.

  1. Thor: Ragnarok

A colourful, eclectic, highly Antipodean adventure of friendship, memory and powers old and new.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Murder on the Orient Express

A crisp, clockwork lattice of motives, suspects, histories and ethics, engineered into a probing investigation of morality and balance.

  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

A whipsmart high school action comedy of superpowered growing pains.

  1. Lady Macbeth

A beautifully composed, exquisitely restrained portrait of devastating disruption.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

A wonderfully wacky and dizzily dazzling space opera of wit, warmth, adventure, family and reconciliation.

  1. A Ghost Story

A subtle, enveloping, achingly sad tale of grief, isolation and the experience of time.

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

An overlong but still thrilling multi-stranded space chase of divination, intuition, legends, legacies and lightsabres.

  1. Kong: Skull Island

A thrilling ride through the wild side that reminds us of our place in nature.

  1. My Cousin Rachel

A ripe, sumptuous Gothic romance of obsession, ambiguity and multiple planes.

  1. It

An atmospheric and genuinely scary tale of fear(s), friendship, nostalgia and growing pains.

  1. Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle

A gleefully absurd, riotously funny, thrillingly immersive action adventure of nostalgia, identity, growing pains and working together.

  1. The Limehouse Golem

A ripe, grisly period murder mystery of roles both social and theatrical.

  1. Hacksaw Ridge

A overly portentous but visceral and at times orgiastically violent film of faith and courage under fire.

  1. La La Land

A vibrant, colourful medley of nostalgia and dreams both lost and won.

Solid Offerings  

  1. War For The Planet Of The Apes

A coldly beautiful, brilliantly realised and unrelentingly grim epic of grief, revenge, cruelty and compassion.

  1. Wind River

An atmospheric, muscular and very cold thriller of borderlands both geographical and societal.

  1. Miss Sloane

A gripping, twisting and enthralling journey through corridors of power and landscapes of laws, ethics and conscience.

  1. Atomic Blonde

An achingly 80s, super slick and stylistically bravura period spy thriller of crunchy action, double-crossing and neon.

  1. Patriots Day

A compelling if inconsistent collation of coherence and chaos within community.

  1. Justice League

A somewhat unbalanced yet stylish, witty and punchy super smackdown of power, fear, courage and the strength of unity.

  1. Get Out

A gripping, thrilling and disturbing horror of racial attitudes and oppression.

  1. Assassin’s Creed

A visceral, enthralling exploration of mind, body and the cinematic space.

  1. Baby Driver

A slick, funky heist thriller with musical flow albeit an imbalance of grit and sentiment.

  1. Tommy’s Honour

A gorgeous, moving drama of family and class, and the most compelling film you may ever see about golf.

  1. Unlocked

A twisting, gripping and gritty espionage thriller that just avoids collapsing under its own contrivance.

  1. Life

A cine-literate, thrilling and suitably grisly space body horror.

  1. The Great Wall

A grand, visceral and sometimes witty monster movie with plenty of bang if lacking in awe.

  1. Call Me By Your Name

A beautifully transnational, intense yet never melodramatic portrayal of youth, sexuality and awakenings.

  1. Baywatch

A baggy, overly referential and yet surprisingly funny buddy comedy of sun, sand and silliness.

  1. The Zookeeper’s Wife

A sometimes moving but ultimately uneven Holocaust drama of compassion and cruelty towards our own and other species.

  1. Churchill

A handsomely mounted if somewhat repetitive home front political drama.

Disappointments

  1. Beauty and the Beast

A sometimes sweeping if rather disjointed musical fantasy romance.

  1. Fences

A somewhat stage-bound domestic drama of family and racial tensions, elevated by powerhouse performances.

  1. Ghost in the Shell

A visually arresting if narratively cumbersome sci-fi thriller of memory, identity and technology.

Turkeys

  1. Lion

An over-determined, clumsily directed and ultimately anemic cosmopolitan drama of loss.

  1. Live By Night

A handsome but hollow period gangster film.

  1. Alien: Covenant

A gory, sumptuous but overly panicked sci-fi horror of ambition and hubris.

  1. The Mummy

An underwhelming, painfully obvious franchise set-up that suffers from being literally too dark.

  1. The Dark Tower

A limp, lifeless, messy squandering of great potential.

  1. The Snowman

A ham-fisted and mechanically clichéd thriller that is more creaky than creepy.

 

Wind River

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Taylor Sheridan is a very fine writer. His previous works Sicario and Hell Or High Water beautifully captured the drama of people caught between social and historical developments. Much the same is true of Wind River, the third in Sheridan’s loose ‘border trilogy’. What the earlier films also had were very fine directors, and Sheridan proves himself less accomplished in this respect as Wind River lacks the enveloping dread that Denis Villeneuve brought to Sicario and the muscular doggedness that David MacKenzie delivered with Hell Or High Water. Sheridan handles his Native American reservation-set thriller solidly but unimaginatively, sometimes overusing dialogue to express the marginalisation and discrimination suffered by one of America’s most underprivileged demographics. Much of this rumination is delivered by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a hunter and tracker with a tangential connection to the inhabitants of the Wind River reservation. After finding the body of a teenage girl in the snow, Cory assists investigating FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). The subsequent investigation between these mismatched partners is functional, if problematic as it foregrounds white characters in a story ostensibly concerned with Native Americans. Sheridan does not explore the social tensions in much depth, again resorting to telling rather than showing, as well as a rather clumsy flashback that depicts escalating events that are disturbing if rather rushed. However, when the film relies on its visuals, it succeeds admirably, as Sheridan delivers set pieces that are gripping and even shocking in their suddenness, expressing the life or death urgency of the environment. And it is in the environment that Wind River attains heights as lofty as the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains (Utah standing in for Wyoming). Cinematographer Ben Richardson lenses the landscape with awe inspiring scale, the expanses of snow and ice rendered in a splendour that leave the viewer chilled to the soul. Wind River may not offer much food for thought, but it certainly offers a feast for the eyes.