The Perfect Scene: Sicario – We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us

Film:                      Sicario

Director:              Denis Villeneuve

Writer:                 Taylor Sheridan

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Description

After a raid on a cartel safe house FBI agent Kate Mercer joins an interagency taskforce on a mission to extradite a top member of said cartel from Juarez to the US. On the way back to the border the group gets stuck in major traffic at the crossing. The path should have been cleared for them but it isn’t. There are two cars with cartel members among the traffic. The team spots them and there is a standoff at the first car. They warn them to stand down but when one of them pulls his gun all the gangsters get shot and killed.

Kate, still back in the car is not happy with the situation they’re in. The second car with cartel members is also surrounded and the taskforce members warn them to stay in the car. They try to get out anyway and are all shot and killed as well. It looks like all the cartel members are killed. But then Kate spots a Mexican state trooper in her mirror creeping up on her car with his weapon drawn. She ducks just as he tries to shoot her and when she comes up she shoots him. That ends the violence and the team can continue on to cross the border.

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What makes it great

Let’s start with the brilliant score of Jóhann Jóhannsson. He won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for his beautiful score of The Theory of Everything. He was also nominated for his score of Sicario and this scene is one of the reasons why. The music perfectly underlines the tension that has been building up for more than 30 minutes. It enhances the scene and it creates a perfect experience.

Add to that the great acting of everyone involved including a good performance by Benicio Del Toro and a great performance by Emily Blunt. I have been a big fan of her for a while and in this film she brings the goods again. She spent time with a real FBI agent before shooting and that helped her turn in a terrific and measured performance. You can really feel the dread and the tension building up because we largely experience the scene with her. We see a lot from her viewpoint and when she is frustrated the audience is also. The situation is really messed up and she brings that across perfectly. I can’t say enough about how good she is.

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I have also been a big fan of Denis Villeneuve. Ever since I saw Incendies I knew he had something that made him special. He hasn’t really disappointed me since. He made a lot of right decisions when it comes to Sicario. Sticking with a female lead for example. He rightly feels that the entire film would be different with a male lead. But, as he would have gotten a bigger budget had a chosen to go for a male lead it would have been understandable if he had. But he didn’t. He is also a master at daring to take his time to build tension or to get to a major plot point. It takes a while before we get to the crossing but despite the long build up, it never gets boring.

And the tension isn’t even the only thing. The scene is so visceral and it feels so real. You could definitely think that it would have happened exactly like that in real life. The cinematography is great as well and Roger Deakins’ Oscar nomination was well deserved.

It’s a shame that the film never quite reaches the level of the first 40 minutes but the film is definitely worth the watch if only for the first 40 minutes or even this scene and the raid at the beginning.

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