It’s one of those movies you’ll only want to see once in your lifetime. Not because it’s traumatizing or something; simply because it’s kind of boring. Good, but boring. The quintessential seven out of ten.
What I liked: this movie has balls. Usually, a movie banking on the free marketing that comes with having a strong female protagonist would never dare reduce her character to a crying little girl. But this movie does that. The by-the-books, I’m-a-tough-chick-who-smokes-look-at-me cliché female “bad-ass” that Emily Blunt plays gets reduced to a sniveling child by the end of the movie, getting slapped around by Josh Brolin and downright bullied by Benicio del Toro into signing a piece of paper while she cries with a gun under her chin. It’s pretty funny stuff. Not to mention totally realistic, as you can tell her character was the kind that put on a tough facade that was going to be torn down by something eventually.
I also liked that Benicio’s character wasn’t a pussy. By that, I mean that usually these revenge-driven characters decide, just as they’re about to get their revenge opportunity, that they’re above it and pussy out. That aint Benicio. He wants the sick fuck who killed his wife and melted his daughter dead, and he gets what he wants. Shoots both the guy’s kids and wife dead right in front of him at the dinner table and tells the guy to finish his goddamn last meal. The dude is so petrified (and the audience so giddy) that Benicio decides to end dinner early and just finishes the guy off before desert can come around. Nice.
The last thing I have to say in praise of the writers’ textual balls was the grizzly imagery throughout the film. Naked dude with his left arm and head chopped off and penis flopping out, being dangled upside down by a rope tied to his ankle from a highway? Check. Graphic, bloodied see-through body bags found inside the walls of a house when the plaster is removed? Yep (this was honestly the most disturbingly intriguing thing I’ve seen in a movie ever). A cop crawling towards his right arm that just got blasted off by a shed-bomb? Mmhmm. And the best part is, for the first two out of three examples I used, the camera just lingers on these shots, forcing you to soak them in over a prolonged period of seconds.
Another thing I dug: the scope of the movie. I thought it was going to start out with character exposition and go from fictional border-patrol movie to larger scale sociopolitical commentary on the Mexico-United States border situation. Turns out, it worked the other way around. It went from a large scale, relatively non-fiction look on the current real world situation and zoomed in on the specific characters lives so that it was a fictional story by the end. It was weird, but cool.
Also, tension-building is done very, very well in this movie. The soundtrack is pretty much just one low, ominous and ever-repeating cello (or bass?) assembly that just hammers out the same deep moan, and serves as an audio cue for when shit is about to hit the fan.
What I didn’t like: So much talking. Christ, man. This movie clocks in at two hours and one minute, and I can break down exactly how each minute is spent: five minutes of actual action. Sixteen minutes of tension-building for the aforementioned five minutes of action. Ten minutes of nail-biting stand-offs and confrontations. An hour and a half of boooooooring character building and needless conversing.
On a side note, one of the major scenes in the trailers for this film is advertised to seem like an action sequence when in reality it’s not. The highway scene, in the actual movie, is nothing more than a LOT of tense build up to an otherwise anticlimactic shootout. It went something like this:
(dramatic cello hammers out the same one note for five minutes of establishing shots)
Benicio: there’s bad guys out there.
Emily: how do we know they’re the bad guys?
Josh: they’re Mexican, duh.
(dramatic cello hammers out the same note as the crew eyeball fishy-lookin’ Mexicans in cars for another five minutes)
Dickish driver guy: Well Josh, it’s about that time.
(Dickish driver guy exits vehicle, walks up to the sketch-Mex’s car and just shoots them from two yards away uncontested)
What I wasn’t sure about: The movie stars Emily Blunt for the first four-fifths, with the last segment almost exclusively starring Benicio’s character. It’s weird. It’s like shifting focus to Han Solo’s perspective during the final Death Star trench run of Star Wars Episode 4. I mean, he was the coolest character in the movie so it’s okay, I guess, it’s just a bit jarring.
So, yeah. Go see this movie if you’re into scary cello tension-building music, like grizzly Mexican cartel conflict imagery or just want to see Benicio del Toro rock the boat as a bad-ass hitman with no rules and no remorse.