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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Sicario: A Beautiful View on Dark Content

Roger Deakins is a cinematographer from Devon England who has a career spanning over forty years in shooting television, documentaries, and feature films. At the age of 68 he has been nominated for thirteen Academy Awards for best cinematography and has collaborated with a long list of esteemed directors, such as Ethan and Joel Cohen, Sam Mendes, Frank Darabont, and Denis Villeneuve. He is known for shooting visually beautiful scenes as well as bringing realism to either farfetched/fictional stories, or exaggerated themes.

In December 2013 Roger Deakins and Denis Villeneuve started production on their second collaboration together on a film called Sicario which was released in 2015. The film showcases a very talented cast of Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, and Jon Bernthal, as well as the intelligent and enthralling script written by Taylor Sheridan and the passionate and almost flawless directing style of Denis Villeneuve. Yet its Roger Deakins behind the camera that really makes this film special. With incredible manipulation of light and surroundings pared with Deakins experience and knowledge of where and when to shoot, Sicario is a visual spectacle to be reckoned with. Deakins style uses light, camera angles, and locations to enhance the story and how it’s being told.

Sicario, in Mexico means ‘Hitman’. The story here is about U.S. government agencies cooperating together in a rather illegal hunt for a Mexican drug cartel leader. The film starts as Kate Macy (Emily Blunt) leads a team of FBI agents into a house that is occupied by gang members affiliated with the Mexican cartel. This scene reveals Kate to be excellent within the law, as a clean and to the book agent, and showcases the vast range of brutality executed by the cartel, and how urgent it is to stop it. A very laid back government official named Matt (Josh Brolin) recruits Kate for a mission to bring down the drug cartel. Not knowing what she's getting into, Kate accepts and is thrown into a hurricane of violence and espionage, for which she is not prepared. Kate is a rule follower to a fault, so naturally she is upset when she discovers her partner in this mission (Benicio Del Toro) is a liaison to the CIA and a mercenary with personal motives. Things start to spiral out of control as Kate leaves her comfort circle of the FBI to join the unforgiving world of the CIA working outside the law.

This film is packed with darkness, realism, and unfortunate situations, which are all either alluded to, illuminated by, and/or brought to definition by the camera work and light manipulation of Roger Deakins. When watching Sicario one truly feels brought into the carnage, and suspense of the story due to the exceptional camera work. One great example is when Kate and her team infiltrate a house of armed cartel members who are said to have hostages. The majority of the house is very beige and bland both interiorly and exteriorly. The operation goes very smoothly as the team kicks down doors and apprehends the targets, until Kate and team members open a door with hostiles pointing a shotgun directly at them. As soon as Kate opens the door, viewers are alerted of danger and thrown into the suspense. This is not only due to the hostile with the shotgun, but the illuminated red drapes over the window. After about a minute of one’s eyes adjusting to the beige and blandness of the building, they are then suddenly interrupted by the bright red curtains that clearly scream danger! The curtains complement the intensity of the gunman, bringing the viewer into the action.

At one point one of the FBI regional directors (Kate’s Boss), walks into the hideout/burial house owned by one of the cartels. The camera captures both the internal doorway and the sky, ground, and people on the exterior. There is a nice shadow in the corner of the right side of the door way. In this composition it is impossible to not notice the thin run of red caution tape. This is out of the ordinary due to police caution tape usually being yellow, however the caution tape being red is most likely not a mistake. The caution tape is carefully and intentionally placed to allude to danger within the house, even though the house has been pronounced ‘cleared.’ Another color showcased in the film is blue. After some troubling news about the mission is shared with Kate, Kate feels out of place and helpless, so her and her partner decide to go to a bar to unwind. The blue tint suggests depression, significance, or the infinite. It’s obvious that the events around Kate are depressing to her, which is also alluded by the fact she is at a bar. But this color also suggests that the situation around her is bigger than her or what she could even imagine.

The photo above is from a very important scene for character development. The scene showcases CIA operative Matt (right), and colleague Alejandro (left) in an argument with Kate and her partner Reggie (blurred figure on right side) who are just behind and in front of the camera. Notice how Matt and Alejandro are brightly lit as opposed to the photo below where Reggie is in the shadows. At this point in the film, it is easy to assume that the mission that Alejandro and Matt are perusing is not legal or even moral However, they are strongly and brightly lit which leads viewers to believe that they are in the right and know best about the situation. Reggie literally being in the shadows alludes to how far he and Kate are in the dark in regard to the mission.

Throughout the movie a Mexican police officer is seen starting his day with his wife and son multiple times. He and his family are seen eating in this clearly lit and bright kitchen. This pattern is then broken in the scene where the police officer and his son are eating breakfast in the shadows. This foreshadows something bad is going to happen to the police officer. Again the literal “In the shadows” theme is being used, which also means the officer is not aware of the upcoming danger he is in. The danger is then obviously hinted to again, as he drives into the heart of a storm, or the heart of the danger. Sicario benefits from the combination of an amazing cast, script, and director, all of which are sealed together by the incredible cinematography of Roger Deakins. By truly leading the viewer through the story of the film via light placement, camera angles, and tone suggestions, Roger Deakins makes Sicario one of the most beautiful films on what would be considered some very dark content.

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