Film is one of the most engaging modes of storytelling. It has the ability to pull us away from our surroundings and immerse us into the fictional world playing out on screen, even allowing us to forget where we are. And if you’re a filmmaker or film buff, you may have heard a relatively new term in the cinematic sphere: Sicario cinematography.
Wondering what that is? We have another question for you first. How do directors and cinematographers create such an immersive experience? There’s no better example of the subtle uses of direction and cinematography than Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, which uses clever camera angles and scene composition to engage the audience’s attention, drawing the viewer into the world on-screen in ways that are not always immediately obvious. Before we go into detail about Sicario cinematography, be sure to enlist Peerspace when you’re ready to shoot your next production. We have thousands of production spaces in cities across the globe. Each listing includes high-def photos, past renter reviews, detailed descriptions, and upfront pricing.
Cultivating a relationship between an audience and the protagonist
Roger Deakins, the cinematographer for Sicario, employs techniques that divide or focus the action on screen. This is meant to recreate the tension and drama experienced by the characters for the audience. In some of its most impactful scenes, the frame of the camera is narrowed on a particular character, limiting our view of the action surrounding the character to enlarge the significance of the character themself.
Through this telescoping of perspective, the audience witnesses on the face of the character their own experience of their surroundings. And, by doing so, the audience comes to depend on the character for an understanding of the action going on in and out of frame. In this way, Sicario cinematography manipulates the camera’s frame to cultivate a relationship between the audience and its protagonists. The audience is conditioned to pay attention when a particular character appears on screen and to relate to that character.
Additionally, Sicario cinematography frequently limits the camera’s frame to emphasize the unpredictability and gut-wrenching tension of particular scenes. In one of these, we follow the protagonists of Sicario on a busy highway as they pursue an unknown number of bad characters.
Here, the camera angles are narrow, focused either on the interior of the vehicles occupied by the protagonists or from their perspective, recreating the actual experience of being in a car on the highway. At no point does the audience see the scene from above and, because of this, is unable to orient the different camera’s perspectives in relation to one another. It’s like the audience is right alongside the protagonist, exposed to the same threats as they are.
With these closeup and cropped shots, there is no distance between objects on the screen to provide a buffer of safety. The camera angles are cramped and focused, imparting to the audience the same sense of claustrophobia and tunnel vision experienced by the characters on screen.
Just as the characters are unaware of the location and number of bad guys on the highway, the audience is unable to sense where exactly the impending threat might erupt. Everyone outside of the protagonist’s vehicles is a possible threat and the impossibility of anticipating that threat is what drives the action and suspense of the scene. A firefight might break out in any direction to the surprise of the audience.
What we aren’t meant to see
The narrowed perspectives and close-up framing employed by Sicario cinematography have two purposes, one of which we alluded to above. It puts the audience in the shoes of the characters on screen and recreates the drama of the action for the audience to reflect on lived and realistic experiences.
The second purpose is to remove any extraneous objects or characters that are irrelevant or may distract from the narrative or action. To accomplish this, a wide shot of a busy public street, which gives a sense of the setting, will jump to a particular individual. This type of cutting allows the audience a general understanding of the context that immerses the characters. It then cuts away the extraneous details of that scene to focus the audience’s attention on a particular detail or individual with actual significance to the plot.
Sicario cinematography seamlessly and deftly guides the audience through the narrative by stitching together focused scenes that limit perspective to enhance a plot feature.
Light and darkness in Sicario cinematography
Just as the framing of a shot will focus the attention of the audience on particular details and events, the use of dramatic lighting in Sicario imparts aesthetic and narrative significance to important movie scenes. The audience’s understanding of a character comes from their interpretation of the actions and dialogue of that character. It also comes from the cinematographer’s use of light and shadow to underscore certain character traits. With Sicario cinematography, you can employ light and visibility to communicate good and heroic attributes. However, they use darkness and shadow to communicate bad or amoral qualities.
In the final scene of Sicario, the characters Kate and Alejandro sit opposite each other at a table. To enhance the contrast between the two characters and what they symbolize, Alejandro is obscured by deep shadow, and Kate is lit by the fluorescent lights above her. It’s truly amazing how differently-lit two characters can be who are so close together in the same scene. The purpose of this is not to be realistic, but to communicate to the audience what the characters represent in the narrative, as well as how the two characters view one another.
In this scene, Alejandro demands that Kate sign her name on a document. Kate’s reluctance prompts Alejandro to hold a gun to her throat, attempting to force her signature. Just as Alejandro’s character is disfigured by the violence of his threat, the deep shadow cast over him completely disfigures and conceals his face. In fact, he is only recognizable by his voice. Sicario cinematography uses shadow to reflect the interior nature and character of Alejandro. Meanwhile, Kate is entirely visible, appearing elevated above Alejandro, who has sunk in his seat.
What Sicario Cinematography conveys
This masterful use of cinematography wordlessly communicates the action and dynamism of the scene, so that you understand what is taking place between the two characters without needing to hear their dialogue.
This is the essence of Sicario cinematography that makes it so effective: it manipulates the framing and composition of the scene to enhance and echo the narrative told through the dialogue. The cinematography itself tells a separate and parallel narrative.
Try your hand at Sicario cinematography at a Peerspace
Maybe your interest in Sicario cinematography is because you’re planning on shooting a film of your own! If so, you’re probably looking for a place to film. We suggest you try Peerspace to locate film shoot locations. Since Peerspace is the most extensive marketplace on the web for venues of all kinds, it’s the ideal way to find a unique and suitable place to make a movie of your own.
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