Sicario (sɪˈkɛərɪəʊ) | Spanish | Assassin. Hitman. Hired Killer.
In Sicario, Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an idealistic FBI agent who is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico. Sicario is an intense, relentlessly paced and thrilling look at the American war on drugs and murky US-Mexico border politics. French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s film is absolutely riveting, with amped up tension and thrilling action pitted against an air of paranoia and the grisly reality of drug cartel violence.
Villeneuve is on a hot streak (Prisoners), and has crafted yet another fine thriller with fantastic performances from his cast. Emily Blunt is a force to be reckoned with as Kate Macer. She’s a competent leader, self-assured and confident – Blunt’s portrayal of Kate maintains her “Full Metal Bitch” title from Edge of Tomorrow.
Even as the focal point of the film, Kate is frustratingly boxed in by the male-dominated ranks. She is regularly confronting her new colleagues for explanations – but remains left in the dark. At times she’s reduced to the role of a pawn, rather than a player. Kate’s confusion and vulnerability add to the mounting tension and ambiguity of the bureau’s role in the drug war – it’s an important part of the narrative. Blunt is so great and maximizes the potential of a role that would have been drowned out by a lesser talent.
Josh Brolin plays Matt Graver, the enigmatic task force leader who speaks in riddles and creates a general sense of unease. Garver relishes Kate’s paranoia and distrust – as things progress, it becomes horribly clear that Garver’s unprofessional style is an important tactic. His mission is to work outside the rules of engagement.
Garver is joined by an even more secretive agent, Alejandro, as played by the absolutely mesmerizing Benicio Del Toro. He brings an eerie stillness and quiet authority, that quickly shifts from genuine compassion to an intimidating fury.
….Del Toro has had some great success in playing characters on both sides of the drug war (including an Oscar-winning turn in Traffic) – and to prepare for this film… it was just a matter of reconnecting with the DEA agents, law-enforcement personnel and others involved in that world that he’s gotten to know over the years so that he could “be up-to-date.” ….
Alejandro is a brooding and solitary figure – a lone wolf in a professed land of wolves – it’s hard to watch anyone else when Del Toro is on screen – he steals every scene he’s in. I’m predicting some attention for Del Toro’s work this awards season.
Taylor Sheridan’s script also focuses on the players on both sides of the drug war, on both sides of the border – those people unfortunate enough to be caught in the crossfire carry the emotional consequences of a war fought on either side of the law.
Even with the amazing cast and the fantastic performances, the narrative of Sicario unravels at times, specifically when Kate Macer’s role becomes almost secondary to those of other characters. There are also moments when the story goes a little off the rails in tales of vengeance and retribution. But I’m just nitpicking here – it’s an excellent and absolutely thrilling film. The best parts of Sicario boast scenes of great tension – including a white-knuckled standoff in the midst of traffic on a freeway and a nail-biting final act that approaches Zero Dark Thirty territory, including scenes filmed with night vision cameras.
Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins captures the barren landscape of the border and overpopulated madness of Juarez as if we’re witnessing a lawless apocalypse. It’s a stunning mix of landscapes and muted tones that create an almost unbearable heat as you’re watching the action unravel on screen. Johan Johannsson’s score is ominous and creates a heavy feeling of dread with its pulsing rhythm.
Sicario carries a threat of constant violence and paranoia in telling a story about a war that’s actually being waged in our backyard. Where do the lines between hero and villain lie? In Sicario, it seems the border is just another line to cross.