Two stand out performances redeem an overhyped and underwhelming thriller.
An idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.
After a gripping and brutal opening sequence involving a botched raid, the film seemed to meander along. Thankfully, Blunt was superb and really carried the film as she delved into the murky underbelly of Juarez.
The first hour was far too slow for my liking. BUT I was still intrigued to see where it was going. The cryptic conversations and stone walled pallor of Josh Brolin created an air of mystery and suspense. BUT I needed more. It didn’t help that a good portion of what was happening was very disjointed and confusing.
Luckily the introduction of Del Toro’s Alejandro spiced things up. He was brilliant. BUT after a while, Johann Johannson’s brooding soundtrack and Del Toro’s blank staring soon got on my nerves. I constantly questioned his motives and general relevance, to be honest.
Blunt’s frustration personified mine perfectly. Del Toro’s warning to her was a nice little indication of things to come. “Nothing will make sense to your American ears and you will doubt everything we do”. So I kept my griping to a minimum. Waiting for answers or a big twist to redeem this surprisingly patchy affair.
The sweeping shots of a downtrodden Juarez were a sight to see. Captured perfectly with Roger Deakins’ cinematography. A gritty underworld. The rifle fire riddling across the night sky like fireworks was a nice touch.
It was great to see Daniel Kaluuya from Psychoville in this. He delivered an impeccable accent and a sterling supporting turn. An impressive transition for the BBC Three star. I was also happy to see Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice finally getting a movie role. Shame, it was such a weak one.
Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) was completely wasted in his role. His character felt unnecessary and nothing more than a catalyst to spark some much needed action.
After all the slow burning build up, cryptic mumbling and waiting, I expected this to go out with a bang. It delivered a finale of sorts. The closing act was tense, atmospheric and nail biting. The answers finally revealed as we unearthed Alejandro’s true agenda.
The only problem was that after all the mystery, I really hoped it wasn’t going to be so predictable. The twist. Well, if you could it call it that. I saw it coming a mile away. Maybe I’ve seen too many thrillers of this genre to be surprised. For all the confusion, I was hoping that there would be more to unveil. BUT alas, it was not to be.
What didn’t help was that as Del Toro took the centre stage, it was at the expense of Blunt’s character who was pushed into the background. She was far too passive and really didn’t know what was going. It was disappointing that someone we had followed for two hours wasn’t really in the final moments.
If not for a tense stand off with Del Toro, her character would have gone out with a whimper. Which sums up my impression of the film.
At its best, tense, nail-biting and suspenseful. At its worst, patchy, overlong and dull. From the director of Prisoners? Thriller of the year? I expected so much more.