Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins are at the forefront of a new movement of visceral films
Modern cinema has brought us so many films with too many cuts that make the action on screen nearly undecipherable. There are exceptions, but it is almost always a detriment, with many films using heavy editing as a lazy form of movie-making.
In contrast to this trend, Quebec-born Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins have been breaking away from the familiar by lingering on shots and not overly editing their films. As Deakins said himself when discussing Sicario in a Deadline.com interview, “We built the tension by holding the shots a lot longer then somebody else might.” The success of his films, and those with a similar approach such as The Revenant, prove there is a place for films that dive into an unflinching, realistic and unrelenting style.
Villeneuve truly broke out into the mainstream back in 2013 with the release of his film Prisoners. The film depicts the lengths a father will go to in order to find his missing daughter, and the strain of such an experience. In short, the movie is emotionally draining. Prisoners was Villeneuve’s first real chance to prove himself in Hollywood, and he expertly handled the pressure of a demanding story, while working alongside some of the best established actors.
Audiences were drawn in by the story, the eerie tone and the devastatingly vulnerable performances of Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. The beautiful, dark, long, steady shots that compose the cinematography are an essential part of the film’s haunting mood. The first scene sets the tone not only for Prisoners, but for every subsequent Villeneuve project. We open with a shot of the woods. A deer walks into the frame. The camera pans out to show two hunters. One utters a prayer and fires. The deer falls. This one shot sets the bar for the rest of the film.
This type of brutal honesty has been lacking from the silver screen recently. Villeneuve brings it back in a big way, thanks to breathtaking cinematography. Every shot in his recent films are masterfully composed. Every scene has a purpose.
Enter cinematographer Deakins, a 12-time Academy Award nominee, who has worked on classic films like The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo and The Big Lebowski. Deakins was the reason actors Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro accepted roles in Sicario, they said in an interview with entertainment news site Collider. Brolin, Del Toro and Emily Blunt, who also worked on Sicario, expressed their respect for the established cinematographer and his legendary status in the filmmaking community. His more recent films include successes like Skyfall and No Country For Old Men. His works never fail to instill a sense of dread and unease in the audience.
Villeneuve has been at the forefront of a new movement in Hollywood of creating truly personal films with mainstream entertainment value. His passion for the medium of visual storytelling is unique in this age of blockbuster, mind-numbing nonsense. Combine that with the genius of methodological and experienced cinematographer Deakins, and the audience is left with a unique film experience that creeps into the very soul. Their films are reviving a genre of intense and visceral movies, and this revival can only have a positive effect on filmmaking.