Emily Blunt Hopes 'Sicario' Brings About 'Great Discussion'

Colin Covert
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)

“One of the strongest themes in this film is these cycles of violence,” Blunt said. “And is that necessarily the solution — to meet violence with further violence?"


Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Benthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedrillo, Maximiliano Hernandez
Rated: R
Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2015
US date: 2015-10-08 (General release)

After more than a decade starring in comedies and love stories, Emily Blunt has become the fatal female of choice recently for clever, fresh summer blockbusters. The English beauty was a shotgun-packing single mom in 2012’s time travel thriller “Looper.” She was Tom Cruise’s first choice to play a steely supersoldier in last year’s sci-fi war film “Edge of Tomorrow.” Each time she delivered sharp lines and solid scenes as effective as body shots.

Her newest role takes her into panic territory and beyond. The white-knuckle crime thriller “Sicario” puts her in the midst of a brutal turf war in the no man’s land around the U.S.-Mexico border. It is, she says, the most socially important film she has made.

“That’s what I want,” Blunt said in a recent phone conversation, “and I think it’s a film that will cause great discussion.”

“Sicario” (Spanish for hit man) is connected to pain in each scene, sometimes bloody, sometimes heartbreaking. Blunt plays an idealistic Arizona-based FBI agent who leads a kidnap response team. Drafted into a classified federal operation against vicious Mexican drug cartels, she enters a world that is incoherent to her. Co-stars Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin play her ruthless supervisors, breaching the border with secret raids to exterminate the enemy. Blunt’s character constantly struggles to do the right thing in a war where moral certainty doesn’t seem to exist.

It is a barren view of ongoing havoc. Blunt said she hopes it will cause audiences to carry away an attitude of “questioning their own moral compass. And what they think is the best way to deal with such an impossible issue” as how wars on terror inflame terrors of their own.

“One of the strongest themes in this film is these cycles of violence,” she said. “And is that necessarily the solution — to meet violence with further violence? I think that is the question that this film poses to the audience. It doesn’t give an answer.

“It asks you to ask that of yourself. It’s quite confronting in that way.”

“Sicario” is not for a moment a civics lecture, said Blunt, a clever, lively conversationalist who is far from stuffy or staid even on serious subjects.

“It was a quite spare, minimalistic, claustrophobic film,” she said. “And we actually cut a lot more of the dialogue that was in the already spare script” by actor and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. Director Denis Villeneuve “is all about the power of suggestion,” and cinematographer Roger Deakins’ widescreen lensing “shoots things in the most emotional, mood-infused way,” allowing the cast to be more quietly internal than conversational.

The mysterious aims of the controlling characters keep viewers anxiously looking for clues, adding a rich element of suspense. “The audience is not patronized with this film,” she said. “I think they are as in the dark as your lead character, and I think that’s really refreshing. You have to do your best to keep up with the film.”

Blunt considers most scripts “so overwritten with so much excess baggage that the actors have to just make it work most of the time. There are scenes that are very hard to do when you feel it’s strictly expository. You feel so grateful not to have to explain everything.”

Blunt was delighted to work with Deakins, one of the industry’s most admired cameramen, whose work includes “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Skyfall” and “No Country for Old Men.”

“Anytime you see his film, you know it,” she said. “It’s just quite singular. They just glow and transport you in a really sort of tense and confronting way. His shots are beautiful but always quite arresting. It’s certainly not paint by numbers.”

Villeneuve works with his individualist signature as well, Blunt said, helping her create a character who finds the line between right and wrong growing blurry. Her dimming view of morality is echoed in a nightmarish chase where she wears night vision goggles while racing through unlit subterranean tunnels leading to a drug gang’s Mexican nerve center.

“We actually did shoot in pitch black,” she said with a laugh. “And I thought, ‘Oh, great, we’re going to be given night vision goggles. This is so awesome.’ And then we were handed our fake eye vision goggles. We were effectively just wearing an eye patch. So you were even more unstable on your feet. That maze of tunnels they built was quite challenging as well. Everyone was just bent over the whole time for a week.

“I fell outside and landed on sand, so that was OK. People banged their heads a few times, so there were bleeding heads. Specifically, for somebody as tall as Benicio, the tunnels were a nightmare. I think he had to go see a chiropractor after that scene!”

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