February 9, 2016

How the Color in 'Sicario' Reveals the Battle Between Good & Evil

In film, color is communicative, and in Denis Villeneuve's Sicario, color speaks volumes about not only the war on drugs, but the war raging inside ourselves to define what is moral and what is immoral.

In this enlightening video essay, the team over at Digging Deeper investigates Villeneuve's and DP Roger Deakins' use of color to show the audience not only where each character lands on the moral spectrum, but also the moral ambiguity inherent in the human experience.

Sicario's story is similar to many others -- the rookie cop who realizes the institution in which he/she wishes to fight justice, is in actuality itself corrupt (SerpicoTraining Day, Casualties of War, etc.). Kate (Emily Blunt) is an "idealistic FBI agent" who gets signed on to assist in fighting the war on drugs along the U.S./Mexican border, but starts to realize that her fellow agents may not share her moral compass.

In fact, morality could be seen as another character in Sicario, along with the colors it imbues. Villeneuve and Deakins chose different colors to represent certain ideals of morality, like blue for justice, black for corruption, and beige for the true morally ambiguous nature of human beings without labels.

We see the storytelling power of color in the protagonist Kate. In the beginning of the film she wears bold blue colors, but as time goes on, it gets desaturated to a bluish grey. The video suggests this is a metaphor for the gradual degradation of her idealism and ultimate loss of faith in the justice system.

In what other ways does Sicario use color to tell its story? What Let us know in the comments.      

Your Comment

11 Comments

Yo this is brilliant! One of the best films of the year. I love the color break down. Nice work!

February 9, 2016 at 9:14PM

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Terrell Lamont
Director, Director of Photography
313

Great analysis!

February 10, 2016 at 1:44AM

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Per Gunnar Fordal
Freelance Filmmaker
82

This is Brilliant, the color compass is extroadinary, I never would have known if it wasnt for this enlightenment. The colors literally change my mood towards the emotions in each scene. Great Job !

February 10, 2016 at 2:00AM, Edited February 10, 2:00AM

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Ebony Gilbert
Writer/Director
1

Easily one of the best films of 2015. Will be a classic for years to come.

February 10, 2016 at 6:02AM

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This is very consistent with the lessons given in "If it's Purple, Someone's Gonna Die". After watching this I must go back for a second read but I do remember blue invoking a sense of powerlessness and detachment and yellow being a cautionary colour - something this is embedded in our minds as dangerous or as an aggressive warning. Sicario did an awesome job of applying these principles!

February 10, 2016 at 11:53AM

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Outstanding video! Thanks. It amazing shows how wore robe and grading colors can add a third dimension to story telling. Learned a lot!

February 10, 2016 at 12:49PM, Edited February 10, 12:49PM

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William Scherer
Producer, Writer, Director, Aerial Photography
255

*SPOILERS*
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Also, if we're talking about symbology, the struggle of Emily Blunt's character, we see at the end that she is forced to sign the document while her own police issue firearm is pressed under her chin.

February 11, 2016 at 10:31AM

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Brandon Shafto
Cinematographer
255

A very interesting and well thought out analysis, but I question whether colors have as much effect on viewers as filmmakers like to think they do. It's all fun to play with and for sure colors can subtly reinforce what is happening behaviorially onscreen, but it would be interesting to do a study, filming the same scenes with different color schemes and see how much that does or does not change the impact of the scene on the untrained viewer's eye. I like it because I'm a filmmaker myself, but overthinking it all too much can hinder the creative process as much as others might profess it to help. When all is said and done I think light and dark (contrast) affect viewers more strongly than color. It all comes down to choices.

February 11, 2016 at 10:33PM, Edited February 11, 10:33PM

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Drew Staniland
Actor/Videographer/Writer/Director
95

Wow! Even the makers of this film would have not thought of planting those details in the film like they are over analysed in this video. You can surely show videos like this to film making classes in the first few session.
Sicario is undoubtedly a masterpiece. But it's just the right amount of spices that fell on the right places although I wish the writer and the director gave it a more intelligent ending to make it a complete film.
Since the film feels incomplete in the end, all other great things about the film (including the beautiful background score and Emily's brilliant performance) go unnoticed.

February 13, 2016 at 3:39AM

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Bhushan Gaur
Director / Writer
91

I thought Sicario was a beautiful movie with amazing performances and a solid narrative. But honestly, I felt myself being suffocated by the colour symbolism in the film. The Blue=Good, the Red=Bad, the saturated beige and the Fading colour of her shirt were all too obvious. I greatly appreciate the works of Roger Deakins (In fact No Country For Old Men is my favourite film in terms cinematography and atmosphere) but in this I just felt too overwhelmed by the obviousness of it.

February 20, 2016 at 5:54AM

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Amazing! it went completely over my head, the story was so compelling that i didn't realize this. I love it when colour works like this, when it's there and helps to form a setting but it's not 'on your face' and doesn't distract you from the movie.

September 14, 2016 at 8:11AM, Edited September 14, 8:11AM

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Abi Stricker
Student?
91