Sicario: The Genius of Roger Deakins

Okay so this month the Oscars are coming with The Revenant being the movie billed to be the years big winner.

It's a GREAT film. The cinematography by two time oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki ticks all my boxes - big wide lenses (12-28mm) and all shot in natural or firelight on the Alexa 65mm. What's not to like? It's simply beautiful albeit brutal to look at. I'll do a follow up piece on that movie when it comes out on DVD and I can dissect it to pieces.

The truth is however I was really disappointed when I saw it. Disappointed for Roger Deakins.

To me the outstanding movie of 2015 was Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve and shot by Roger Deakins I've now watched this 3 times and it's absolutely faultless.

The first time I watched it I know it was special but I couldn't quite figure out why. In subsequent viewings I've realised its all about the pacing and the way Deakins just lingers on shots for way longer than we're used to (certainly in todays fast cut editing style), but this isn't just Deakins on a self indulgent guitar solo. You can tell it's a considered approach that helps with the storytelling, the build up of tension and particularly helps to flesh out the characters, of which we have zero back story.

Here's my breakdown on some of my favourite shots and why ....


This is the opening shot of the movie. An ordinary suburban US housing estate (it actually reminded me of the housing estate in ET) somewhere in a dry arrid state. The yellow tones of the landscape and buildings interrupted by a slow right to left panning shot as a team of SWAT police dressed in black descend on one of the houses. One of the officers walks directly in front of the lens as the camera continues to pan, putting us as observers right in the heart of the team, the blackness of their uniforms contrasting against the yellow ordinary houses .


We're introduced to Benicio del Toro's character Alejandro, he gets off a private jet with the camera shooting upwards giving him an air of gravitas. Whoever he is this guy is important.


Love this shot. We don't know who Alejandro is but he's getting ready to go into battle and takes great care in folding his jacket. The camera lingers as he carefully folds the jacket and puts it in his bag. This is a guy who pays attention to detail. It says a lot about his character. I can't see Michael Bay shooting this (unless it was in slow motion with an explosion in the background).


When I saw this shot the first time it was my favourite shot of the movie. Combined with the threatening music of Johan Johannsons score this slow pan up to reveal the motorcade heading into Mexico just seemed like a really great way to emphasise the urgency and threat of the mission ahead.


..And here's the panned up view, side on to the wall dividing Mexico and the US, this shot reminded me of the motorcade shot in Kingdom but with more urgency.


The use of aerial shots in Sicario is a mixture of really hypnotic long shots showing the endless desert landscape and the omnipresent wall,  really emphasizing the sense of space and environment this battle of wills and guns is taking place in. Alongside shots emphasizing the action - such as tracking the motorcade across the border bridge, in turn highlighting the traffic trying to cross the border into the US, the use of aerials in this film really works and as Deakins says adds the landscape as a character in the film.


Here's another great shot. Reminds me of Hitchcocks Psycho shower scene, this time the bottle of water and drain insinuating the waterboarding about to take place. We see nothing, just hear a few screams but this slow pull into the drain says all it needs to.


This is an interesting shot - the argument between Kate and Matt about the previous gunfight is shot entirely in wide  - I'm sure most other directors would have gone for a mid or close-up of their interplay but Deakins chose to keep the entire sequence as a wide shot. I'd love to know what Deakins and Villeneuve were thinking here..


Probably the shot that everyone talks about the most and deservedly so. The Delta team move down out of sight into the sunset and the camera just keeps on the horizon as if the ground almost swallows them. This shot lasts 41 seconds, the light is fantastic as everyone in silhouette just seems to walk into the gates of hell.

I'm sure I'll discover some more shots as I watch this film again and again, so watch this space.

This Film is a great insight into Roger's thinking as well :



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