I complained about this last year and I’m complaining again — the sound in the Grand Theatre Lumiere is too bassy and echo-y, and so I struggled to hear the dialogue during this morning’s screening of Denis Villeneuve‘s Sicario (Lionsgate, 9.18). I managed to pick up a stray word or phrase here and there, and when all else failed I relied on nouns and verbs contained in the French subtitles. Listen and read and combine, listen and read and combine…keep trying. The only way I understood complete sentences was from reading the English subtitles when Benicio del Toro spoke Spanish.

After a while I gave up and told myself to just go with the menacing atmosphere and Roger Deakins‘ cinematography and the portions of performances that seemed to occasionally register, and then figure out the particulars later on. Maybe this is a new thing, a way of seducing audiences into seeing films like Sicario twice.

I know that when I watch the Sicario screener on my home system a few months hence I’ll understand every word.

Sicario is basically about heavily militarized, inter-agency U.S. forces hunting down and shooting it out with the Mexican drug-cartel bad guys, and also flying here and there in a private jet and driving around in a parade of big black SUVs. It’s a strong welcome-to-hell piece, I’ll give it that, but Sicario doesn’t come close to the multi-layered, piled-on impact of Steven Soderbergh‘s Traffic, which dealt with more or less the same realm.

The tale, such as it is, is told from the perspective of Emily Blunt‘s FBI field agent, who of course is stunned and devastated by the unrelenting carnage blah blah. One of her battle-hardened colleagues, a senior veteran with a semi-casual “whatever works, bring it on” attitude, is played by the ever-reliable Josh Brolin. My favorite character by far was Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro, a shadowy Mexican operative with burning eyes and his own kind of existential attitude about things. Blunt’s partner is played by Daniel Kaluuya, and I’m telling you here and now and forever I didn’t understand a single phrase from this guy.

Even with the aural handicap I knew for certain that a lot of what was happening on-screen — the super-grisly violence, the despairing godforsaken atmosphere — wasn’t that interesting or logical even, and that Villeneuve seemed more interested in nightmare vibes than compelling specifics. Villeneuve has called Sicario, which was written by Taylor Sheridan, “a very dark film, a dark poem, quite violent…it’s about the alienation of the cycles of violence, how at one point we are in those spirals of violence and ask ourselves ‘Is there a solution?’ My movie raises the question, but it doesn’t give any answer.”

Variety‘s Scott Foundas saw Sicario in Manhattan on May 7th at a small screening room (i.e., Dolby 88), and was therefore spared the Grand Lumiere experience. He’s described Sicario as “a more jaundiced riposte to Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 Traffic” — a film that I understood every word of when I saw it in Los Angeles screening rooms, by the way — “may prove too grim and grisly for some audiences and too morally ambiguous for others.” You think so, Scott?

“But with its muscular style and top-flight cast, this fall Lionsgate release should score solid (if less than Prisoners-sized) business from discerning adult moviegoers,” Foundas goes on, “along with dark-horse awards-season buzz.” Stop right there. Forget the last seven words in this last sentence. Sorry.