Into the Night

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Having enjoyed ARRIVAL, we went back in time and watched director Denis Villeneuve’s previous hit. SICARIO. It’s very impressive, but we were less convinced by the “human killing machine” tropes which climax it than we had been by the hellish drug war developments of the first two acts. Shot by the always-impressive Roger Deakins, it has a more classical style than ARRIVAL (Deakins weaned the Coens off the wide angle lens, and seems to have drawn Villeneuve away from extreme depth of field long lens stuff, but I’ll have to see even earlier Villeneuves to know if my guess is accurate) with several of the impressive dusk scenes that distinguished NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (cartoon violence by comparison with this). The above image is just about all we see of a harrowing torture scene — imagination does the rest.

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And then there’s this one, which recalls the closing shot of FULL METAL JACKET. The deceptive approach to perspective is an incidental pleasure which may not mean anything: the foreground figures’ bulk emphasises their closeness, but the low angle and silhouette effect makes them seem to be the same distance away as the line of smaller figures. Giants and dwarfs walking together. A Wellesian defiance of space, in the service of graphic impact.

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But the fact that, as the figures advance, they sink below the horizon line, swallowed up by the same liquid darkness they’re composed of, gives the sequence a doom-laden quality, as if the men are descending into the Underworld, or beneath the surface of a dark ocean. Chills.

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3 Responses to “Into the Night”

  1. The only three Villaneuve I’ve seen are his American trio of Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival (I missed Enemy, which I believe was made in Canada, and given his title pattern I’m assuming Blade Runner 2: Do Androids Dream of Electric Bugaloo? will just be renamed Runner or something). Arrival is the relative outlier in terms of visual style, I think. The other two, shot by Deakins, have a bit of a Fincher Lite compositional aesthetic combined with a restrained, patient cutting rhythm. (I love Fincher’s compositions, but he cuts awfully quickly, probably because he’s condensing dense narratives to feature length and just wants the things to move). However, if I recall correctly, all three US Villaneuve films indulge in silhouette compositions, exemplified in Arrival of certain shots of Amy Adams in her house and a shot from behind Forest Whitaker’s head as he sits in front of a bank of monitors … and also certain shots of Adams and Renner talking to Abbot and Costello in the major suspense sequence. This obviously is consistent with the shot you quote above, and certain others I recall from Prisoners.

    Have the Coens truly been weaned off the wide angles? No Country, which iIrc was shot anamorphic (I may be wrong), as a result didn’t get down into the 18mm-25mm range we usually see in their 1.85:1 films, but Hail, Caesar! seemed to be more in that direction than, say, Inside Llewyn Davis, which was shot by Bruno Delbonnel. Though I guess True Grit probably had longer lenses … then again, Burn After Reading almost harkened back to the Barry Sonnenfeld days with the lens choice …

  2. Looking it up, No Country was actually shot Super 35, not anamorphic.

  3. I guess the Coens still get the 24mm out on occasion, but it’s no longer their default choice. Deakins started persuading them to go longer as soon as he started collaborating.

    The credits of Gone Girl produce an interesting discomfort just by cutting slightly too fast to read the names without feeling flustered, and I think that is also a part of Fincher’s fast pace: to make the audience unsettled and in danger of missing stuff.

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