Sicario (Lionsgate) is a brutal, unflinching journey into the heart of the US government’s covert War on Drugs, courtesy of visionary Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Enemy).
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When FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow) inadvertently uncovers a Mexican cartel’s death-house during a raid in Arizona, she is recruited to join a covert black-ops mission being put together by the laconic flip-flops-wearing Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, No Country For Old Men), and spearheaded by Alejandro (Benicio del Toro, Che), an enigmatic Colombian operative with a dark past.
Villeneuve has indicated that the movie was conceived at the height of the cartel violence in Juarez back in 2010, but the content still feels dangerously relevant today. With Hollywood’s fascination with the War on Terror having waned, the War on Drugs seems like a topic ripe for scrutiny, and Villeneuve and first-time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (a jobbing actor best known for playing a cop in Sons of Anarchy) have concocted a murky, morally-compromised thriller that rattles between memorably bullet-strewn set-pieces.
With a well-judged cast – del Toro is particularly impressive – and a healthy dose of intrigue, Sicario is a top-notch piece of work from start to finish. As horrifying and engrossing as the 2013 kidnap drama Prisoners before it, this represents another blistering triumph for Villeneuve – arguably one of the most interesting directors working in Hollywood today. Sicario is vital, visceral and comes heavily recommended.
Inspired by the award-winning book ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ by David Walsh, and directed by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things), The Program (StudioCanal) scrutinises the career of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong – the man at the heart of the most sophisticated doping scandal the sport has ever seen. The film follows Sunday Times journalist Walsh (played by Chris O’Dowd, The IT Crowd) as he embarks on a decade-long investigation of Armstrong and his methods – starting with his connection to controversial Italian doctor Michele Ferrari. Walsh, who puts his own reputation on the line, remains unconvinced of Armstrong’s staggering post-cancer comeback, and becomes determined to expose the man behind the myth. All the while, Armstrong’s career goes from strength to strength, and he seemingly has the public eating out of his hand.
Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) delivers a truly uncanny performance as Armstrong, and deserves all of the plaudits heaped on him for this role. Given the unflinching way in which the film probes into Armstrong’s lies, it needs a strong central performance, and Foster delivers possibly the finest of his career to date. That said – given what Foster brings to the table – the film would have benefitted from screenwriter John Hodge (Trainspotting) digging deeper into Armstrong’s murky motivations, rather than merely stitching together his jaw-dropping achievements. Frears’ brisk direction keeps things lively, but you can’t help but feel there is something missing from the overall picture. All in all: an inconsistent film, raised to a higher level by Foster’s unnervingly convincing lead performance.
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Frankenstein (Signature) is a bleak modern day retelling of Mary Shelley’s iconic book of the same name, courtesy of Candyman director Bernard Rose. Rose has form in the adaptation stakes, and in recent years he has helmed low-budget arthouse versions of a series of Tolstoy novels and short stories! At the film’s outset, a pair of scientists played by Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) and Danny Huston (The Proposition) create ‘Monster’ (Xavier Samuel, Twilight), only to swiftly abandon him to a cold, uncaring world. Suffice to say, he isn’t prepared for the world, and the world isn’t prepared for him, either. Frankenstein is a strange, defiantly uncommercial movie – grim and unrelenting throughout. Don’t be fooled by its straight-to-DVD status, this is a solid distinctive piece of work, buoyed by a strong supporting cast.
The Fear of 13 (Dogwoof) is an engrossing true crime documentary constructed from a single four-day long interview with Nick Yarris, a convicted murderer who has petitioned the court to have his ongoing appeals cancelled, and allow him to be executed – after more than two decades on Death Row. Yarris’ monologue is undeniably compelling, and the casual way in which he tweaks his life’s narrative arc is fascinating to watch. However, the lack of probing from British director David Sington feels like a missed opportunity, and the documentary feels dangerously in thrall to its subject. True crime documentaries are firmly in vogue at the moment, and this one feels strangely flawed.