Tag Archives: benicio del toro

The Hunted – Review

19 Apr

In all my years of watching movies, one of the best film makers I’ve ever seen is the one and only William Friedkin. One of his most famous movies is the 1971 film The French Connection, but I know him best as being the director of two of my favorite films of all time, The Exorcist and Killer Joe. Needless to say, Friedkin is one of the most influential and memorable film makers, in my opinion. Not all of his movies have been overwhelming successes, however. Just look at his 2003 film, The Hunted. While I think The Hunted is a fine example of how to craft a thriller film filled with great action and suspense, I still feel there are some faults that can’t be overlooked.

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While on a black ops mission in Kosovo, Aaron Hallam (Benicio del Toro) witnesses atrocities that have such a great affect on him he can no longer fulfill his duties as a soldier. It also seems to completely unhinges him from reality. When hunters are being found brutally murdered in the woods of the northwest, all the signs point towards someone who has been trained for violent and precise combat. Not knowing how to catch this person, FBI Agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen) brings in civilian military instructor L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), who has exceptional skills in both hand to hand combat and tracking. Soon the hunter becomes the hunted, but it is revealed that Bonham and Hallam may have connections previously unknown which makes the vendetta against society much more personal.

Right from the get go, I was interested in this movie not only because William Friedkin was in the director’s chair, but also because the movie starred both Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro. Both are very fine actors and both play their roles very well in The Hunted. Tommy Lee Jones really seems to understand his character and the nervousness that is deep down inside of him, which is completely counteractive to him being called in to track down a sadistic murderer who has been expertly trained. Jones delivers his lines with sharp sarcasm while also being very fidgety when stuck in some closed in area. On the flip side, del Toro uses his trademark soft spoken intensity to really create an imposing individual. While he is seen as sadistic and violent in most scenes, we still see the human side in him too and understand him as a tragic character. The acting is really all top notch stuff.

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The action in this movie is really cool. There is absolutely nothing stylized or cinematic about any of the fight scenes, which is an interesting choice. When there’s a scene of hand to hand or knife combat, there’s no music playing and the wounds suffered by the fighters are all really brutal. Still it creates a sense of realism. In fact, the entire movie has a very real look to it. This is partially due to Friedkin hiring one of the most acclaimed cinematographers, Caleb Deschanel. There are a few action sequences that are more cinematic. One foot chase through Portland has some great music and camera techniques that makes it all the more exciting.

The only shortcoming I can find in how the plot allows for virtually no character development for the secondary characters. The two main characters get a lot of time and attention to building them up, but there are a handful of other people that either get left in the dust without any sort of character resolution or just serve to take up space on the screen. This is sort of a double edged critique because on one hand I’d like to see the characters developed, but on the other hand Friedkin wanted this to be a “lean, mean action thriller” which is exactly what it is and I appreciate his attention on the entertainment aspect. If I want to be objective, however, I have to say that a little more character development would have gone a long way.

The Hunted is certainly not one of William Friedkin’s best movies, but it does offer plenty of fun and excitement. What this movie really only fails at is developing any kind of relationships between characters other than between Jones’ and del Toro’s. Everything else in the movie is pure action with plenty of thrills, cool fight sequences, and a memorable chase through Portland that reminded me of a sequence in The French ConnectionThe Hunted isn’t going to be revered as the years go on, but it’s a fun way to kill an afternoon.

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Sicario – Review

23 Oct

I’ve seen plenty of new movies this year, each with various degrees of emotion, suspense, and tension. Looking back on everything I’ve seen, I can honestly say that Sicario is the most intense film I have seen and probably will see all year. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners and Enemy), written by Taylor Sheridan (known for a performance on Sons of Anarchy), and filmed by Roger Deakins (who worked with Velleneuve and on many of the Coen Brothers’ films), Sicario not only looks beautiful and offers a very powerful and realistic story, it also features strong performances from all its actors. Sicario is definitely a stand out film of 2015.

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Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a young FBI agent with a bright future ahead of her. After a terrifying encounter with murderous members of the cartel, Macer is recruited by mysterious government agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to be part of a strike force aimed at crippling those responsible. She soon meets Graver’s partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who she can’t quite place on any particular side or agency, making him the wild card of the team. After joining this special operations team, Macer is plunged into the violent world of the Mexican drug trade where the reprehensible violence is done by the cartel as well as the Americans she is working for, and soon clear right and wrong becomes indistinguishable.

Sicario very much reminds me of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic from 2000. Both films show the realities of the drug trade and the lives that are affected by all of the violence. While Traffic is most certainly unapologetic, Sicario feels like a behind the scenes look at something we’re not supposed to see. There’s crime, lies, torture, and murder on both sides of the spectrum, which forces the audience to find logic in the lesser of two evils. This isn’t really a film that will allow you to kick back and relax for a few hours. There is way too much thought that has to be put into the story and characters, plus it’s just way too stressful.

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There’s a scene in Sicario where the special forces team is attempting to cross the Bridge of the Americas to get back into the United States. The only problem is that they are caught in a gridlock and are surrounded by a few cars filled with cartel members. Instead of creating what could’ve been a run of the mill action sequence, Villeneuve and Sheridan create an incredibly suspenseful and low key scene that explodes in only a few seconds of realistic violence. This scene is the best example of the tension that this movie creates. Never does anything in this movie seem overblown or unnecessary. This also means that there is a lot of down time between missions that the team goes on, which may seem boring, but remember that this film is striving for realism.

Even though Sicario strives to paint an accurate portrait reality, never does it forget that it is still a movie and requires time for cinematic drama and character development. Sheridan’s screenplay is very down to earth and all of the actors play their parts very well. Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro especially stand out as the scene stealers of this movie. Deakins’ cinematography is as beautiful as ever and deserves a possible Oscar nom when all is said and done. Speaking of Oscar noms, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is haunting and is certainly the best music I’ve heard in a movie all year.

Sicario is an unforgettable movie experience that feels like it sometimes bends the rulers of modern film making in order to create a unique story with real characters and situations. There have been a lot of great movies that came out this year, and this film stands up there in the upper echelons of my favorites of 2015. It can be difficult and unsettling at points, but it feels so authentic that it should be required viewing for anyone who loves movies.

21 Grams – Review

11 Jan

I didn’t really know what to expect going into 21 Grams. I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it and I have seen and enjoyed Babel, another film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Still, I didn’t know what the story or execution of 21 Grams was going to be like, so I was really going in blind. What I got was more than surprising. It was an exceptional piece of art that deserves the highest amount of praises, and while it may not be a new favorite, I can say that it was one of the most well put together and executed films that I have ever seen.

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The story focuses on the intersecting lives of three characters. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is an ex-con who is trying to turn his life around by teaching the word of God to people who need it most. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a loving wife and mother with a disturbing past. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematician who is slowly dying of heart failure and in need of a new one for a transplant. One night, Jack is involved in a hit and run accident with the family of Cristina, who now has lost everything, but Jack has gained a new heart out of it and is trying to connect with the person who saved his life. As the lives of these three people come closer together, a more volatile mixture of love, hate, and revenge begins to brew.

The best way to describe what I was feeling within the first 15 minutes of this movie would be confusion. I was completely lost until I realized that 21 Grams is told completely out of order. It seemed like the editor was someone with terrible ADHD that was just clicking on random scenes and pasting them together. If you thought Pulp Fiction was jumbled, check this one out. It took a little while to get used to, but once I found the style, it made piecing together these different puzzle pieces all the more fun. Almost as if I was only given the pieces, but didn’t see the full picture beforehand. It’s an interesting way to tell the story.

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I don’t think there’s really a specific need for the story to be told this way, but I’m really glad that it is. I’ve heard reviewers say that this disjointed narrative pulls you away from the characters and makes you feel like they aren’t as three dimensional as they could have been if the story was told in a more traditional way. I completely disagree. I felt very close to the characters and really was concerned for what the outcome would be for them. Also, if you really break this movie down, it is a plain and simple melodrama. Hearts being transplanted, ex cons finding Jesus, and a love being described as taboo would be the understatement of the century. This disjointed narrative keeps things interesting. Rather than just watching things play out, I had to piece things together, which made me pay a lot more attention than I probably would have.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of movies where I need to rave about the acting, the past two being Prisoners and American Hustle, and now the streak continues with 21 Grams. Everyone in this movie is really incredible. Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, and Sean Penn carry the film all through its jumbled plot with ease and made me really believe in these characters. Naomi Watts, especially, gives 110%. Even the supporting cast is great. Melissa Leo and Charlotte Gainsbourg, while they are minor roles, help carry the movie and support the main players.

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21 Grams is a fascinating movie that hooked me with its performances, characters, and direction with special detail given to the editing. While Babel was a really good movie, it isn’t as memorable as 21 Grams. The story that Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have created is deeply moving and thought provoking in a way that can truly change people. It’s rare that a movie can really make me think as much as 21 Grams, and because of that it is one of a kind.

Traffic – Review

4 Apr

Steven Soderbergh has been around for quite a long time and has made a variety of different films, but in 2000, Soderbergh released a film that would be both heavily influential and controversial. Traffic is gritty, tough, emotional, and aims close to home.

Traffic is an epic tale that includes multiple story lines and characters involved one way or another with the Mexican drug trade. Javier Rodriguez (Benicio del Toro) is a Mexican police officer who finds himself and his partner tangled in a web of corruption between the sadistic General Salazar (Tomas Milian) and the notorious Tijuana Cartel. Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is a judge from Ohio who is elected head of the Office of National Drug control. Amongst his new responsibilities, Robert is struggling to help his daughter, Caroline, with her drug addiction. Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) are DEA agents who’re working together to bring down the drug lord Carlos Ayala. After his arrest, his wife, Helena (Catharine Zeta-Jones) dives deep into the underworld in order to get her husband out of prison, even to go so far as to hire a hit man (Clifton Collins Jr.) from the Tijuana Cartel to assassinate the main witness in her husband’s trial (Miguel Ferrer).

After watching this film, I felt sort of like I did after watching Syriana, although Traffic isn’t quite as difficult. Just because it isn’t as internationally intriguing as Syriana does not mean it is not as important. This is one of those films that should be shown in schools, despite it’s graphic depiction of drug use and the violence that it causes between nations.

At many points throughout the movie, the viewer gets many opportunities to observe the U.S./Mexican border. The story lines flow seamlessly from one country to the next with clever uses of lenses, filters, and cameras to signify where we are and how we should be feeling. The Mexican scenes are shot with handheld cameras with a grainy yellow filter to help the viewer feel the heat and grime of the drug underworld. The film stock of these scenes also gives them an older look that almost makes them look like scenes out of an experimental film. The Ohio and Washington D.C. scenes have a blue filter which I feel shows the coldness and artificiality of this type of government lifestyle. The scenes in San Diego appear to look the most normal, except with the reds heightened a little bit, for reasons I’m not too sure of. Needless to say, this film looks fantastic, and I think it’s rare to see this kind of attention to detail in films of this kind.

The story lines in Traffic slightly intersect, but not as much as you might expect. The point of the film is to show how this diverse group of characters play their part in the bigger story. At times you will see certain characters walking by each other or sitting in the same room, but they will never interact with anyone outside of their own story line. That is an interesting choice and works better than trying to force these characters to meet and interact with one another. For me, the most interesting story line is the Wakefield storyline because it has to do with the smaller battles that drugs cause and how they can not only tear nations apart, but also families.

There are many talented actors in this film. Benicio del Toro actually won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and it is deserved. It can be argued that his character is boring and monotone, but that is appropriate for who he is and the viewer can easily see the trouble the character is facing just by looking into his eyes. Michael Douglas also gives an incredibly moving performance, but I personally think that the scene stealer in this film  is Erika Christensen, who plays Douglas’ daughter, Caroline. We never hate this character even though she puts her parents through hell. We sympathize for her and want to see her get through her troubles, even though we don’t have much hope.

Traffic can arguably be considered the first modern epic. After this film was released, we saw many films like it, for example Crash and the aforementioned Syriana. Saying this film isn’t important in both the thematic sense and the historical sense would be a very bold statement to make, but I don’t think I would meet anyone who would say that after seeing this film.

Traffic is without a doubt a modern day masterpiece and only further defines Steven Soderbergh as one of the better film makers of our time. I also stand by my point that this film should be shown in schools. It neither condemns nor supports the War on Drugs, but it certainly alludes to the fact that it can not be won. Every story line is strong and interesting, it looks beautiful, and it is true to life. I definitely recommend this film.