This week’s “Team Deakins” podcast teamed Roger Deakins with editor Joe Walker, a crew member the Oscar-winning cinematographer knows quite well thanks to their work on Denis Villeneuve projects such as “Sicario” and “Blade Runner 2049.” When the conversation turned to the former title, a 2015 action thriller starring Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, Deakins and Walker reminisced on the original opening that was conceived and shot for the film. Walker and Villeneuve would later cut the sequence during post-production.
“There was an opening sequence on the coast that was removed. It was a fantastic scene,” Walker said. “It was with a heavy heart that you remove something like that, but it changed the perspective of viewpoint in the film.”
“It changed Benicio’s introduction and the perspective of the film,” Deakins added. “You feel [in the theatrical cut it’s] more about Emily and this ghostly character shows up at the airport. I really miss the opening but I’m glad it wasn’t used. I remember the struggle we had shooting it. When Denis said, ‘Well, we’re seeing the cut but the opening is not in it.’ I was like, ‘What? What?’ But once you see it, once you see it objectively, it was a really good decision.”
The original opening was centered around del Toro’s character, the assassin Alejandro Gillick. Walker explained a couple months after “Sicario” opened in theaters the opening in detail: “We see Alejandro interrogating a cop by holding his head underwater. But he drowns him. Alejandro administers CPR, brings the cop back to life only to start the interrogation over. It was such a great scene it was tough to drop. But it felt important to anchor the story in Kate’s viewpoint right from the outset and to let Kate and the audience discover Alejandro at the same time.”
By removing the original opening, “Sicario” instead begins with a smash cut into the action as FBI agents Kate (Blunt) and Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) lead a raid on a cartel safe house. Opening the film with this scene roots the narrative in Kate’s perspective and adds a greater mystery to del Toro’s Alejandro when he pops up later in the film. The original opening makes it clear from the get-go how dangerous and violent Alejandro is as a character. By removing it, Villeneuve and Walker were able to tease out Alejandro’s dark side in more suspenseful fashion.
Del Toro reprised his character in the 2018 sequel “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” but neither Villeneuve nor Walker were involved with the project. Neither was Deakins, who earned an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography thanks to his work on the original. Head over to the “Team Deakins” podcast page to listen to Walker’s latest interview in its entirety.