Week 2 Research: Sicario

Midway through 2015 I scored a part-time job working at a cinema, which fortunately meant I got the perk of free movie tickets. I purposely tried to get a job working at a cinema because I thought that while I’m studying at university I may as well make money in a place where I am surrounded by the things I am studying: films. I am lucky enough to mostly work in the ‘Gold Class’ section of the cinema, which means that I am constantly walking in and out of theatres with various different films showing. Often I am walking in on the same films again and again (for instance, I think I know Star Wars: The Force Awakens shot for shot now). Although I originally thought this would get boring, as a media/film student, it only gets better the more times I view a scene from a film; I get to study the different parts of the scene every time I see it: the first time I generally concentrate on the dialogue, simply to understand what is going on in the story, then every time after that becomes more of an investigation into the visuals and soundtrack.

As well as these few glimpses of parts of films, over the holidays I also got to sit down and properly watch a lot of the films in full. As many of my tutors and lecturers from RMIT had told me I should be doing over the years, I started taking notes on all the films I had been watching at the cinema.

For instance, I took notes and drew some frames from Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, 2015), a film that I only got to see parts of. There are two particular shots from the film which I think are completely brilliant. Emily Blunt who plays the character Kate Macer is lying down on the couch. As she is kissing the man on top of her, Ted (Jon Bernthal), she looks around to the coffee table to see what he has just taken off his belt. At this point the keys he has put on the table are out of focus and the audience’s attention is drawn to Kate’s gaze. As she looks around, the editor of the film Joe Walker has cut on action to a shot of her reflection on the glass coffee table.

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This cut and shot is disorienting for a second or so, because it seems to take the mind a moment to register why the shot has suddenly flipped upside down. What is amazing about this shot is that it is motivated. In this one frame we view Kate looking at the object and we also get to see the object itself, once the camera pulls focus from her face to the keys.

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Instead of cutting from her looking at the keys to a shot of the keys, which would end up being a standard reverse shot in most other films and TV shows, Villeneuve has essentially worked out a way to do it all in one take. I think this kind of cinematography is wonderfully innovative and I hope to be seeing a lot more camera coverage like this in other films coming out this year.

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