by Justin MadoreKate Macer (Emily Blunt), leads a team of FBI agents through a neighborhood into an Arizona house against the backdrop of a dry desert landscape. A tank blows in the wall, exposing two kidnappers armed to the teeth with weapons. They’re taken out, and Kate’s team moves into the next room to reveal a third man. Kate kills him, narrowly dodging a bullet in the process. Still reeling from her near death experience, she looks into the drywall, finding dozens of disintegrating corpses — victims in the Mexican cartels’ war to retain control of the region. The shock on Kate’s naive face is as real as the conflict presented. Sicario is a visceral look at the losing drug war near the border of Mexico and the extraordinary lengths law enforcement will go to to combat the cartels, regardless of what side of the law they are operating on.
French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve continues his high quality output, following-up recent films Prisoners and Enemy, with another slick, high octane thriller grounded in reality. While Sicario does indulge in an action set piece or two, it never becomes fantasy. A gritty look provided by legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins (who also shot Prisoners) helps establish the aesthetic of the film, and the script keeps everything in a military vernacular that viewers won’t have any trouble following.
Emily Blunt’s performance also lends a much more realistic touch to her character that is not normally seen with most female law enforcement agents in cinema. She’s tough, sure, but she doesn’t represent the usual trope of the loner who only cares about work. There are other sides to her and we occasionally get to see her forget about it for a bit and just have fun. Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin also give excellent performances as shady, but pragmatic CIA officials who drag Kate into an ethically murky mission to eliminate the biggest targets south of the border — beyond their jurisdiction. Their motivations are consistently unclear and it is del Toro’s shady, malicious performance in particular that demands your attention, playing the tense situations to perfection.Thrillers live and die on how well tension builds. Sicario doesn’t skimp on tension one bit. The film revolves around the deadliness of the area around Mexico’s border, deciding to show us the details rather than tell. Hanging, dismembered and suffocated corpses are everywhere, giving a striking amount of visual impact on the war on drugs. It establishes a real sense of danger before a gun is ever fired. In one particularly memorable scene, a team of agents move through the desert under the camouflage of night. Deakins uses excellent first person thermal and night vision shots to enhance the rugged and anxious vibe. This feeling of imminent peril only builds as Kate Macer becomes even more entrenched in the CIA’s shadowy operations across the border. Like any good thriller, there are twists and turns in abundance, toying with Kate’s and the audience’s perception of her reality.
From its opening adrenaline-fueled drug bust onward, Sicario doesn’t let up. Scene after scene delivers impeccable acting and high stakes actions, presented beautifully with a meticulous eye for detail. The in-depth view of the drug war’s danger doesn’t advocate jingoism and takes its subject matter seriously, where lesser films might fall into line as a straight action film. Its graphic violence serves a distinct purpose. The deplorable acts depicted actually happen and are real world occurrences. There’s still a lot to say about the war on drugs and its impact. Even though the endeavor has certainly failed, Sicario’s grimy portrayal of it passes with flying colors.
4.5 out of 5 stars