If you drop a lamb in a den of lions, the result is virtually never good for the lamb. In Denis Villeneuve’s new feature, the lamb happens to be an idealistic FBI agent played by Emily Blunt who is swept in the seething, wretched and grim underbelly of the war on drugs, courtesy of the Mexican cartels operating out of Ciudad del Juaréz.
Sicario, the title of Villeneuve’s new feature, is a term our neighbors south of the border use to refer to a “hitman.” Villeneuve’s new feature, proves that the Wild West isn’t as dead as people think; the Wild West simply moved south.
Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI specialist in tactical hostage recovery, who is recruited by a Department of Defense operative named Matt Graver, played by Josh Brolin, to investigate cartel activity as part of an inter-agency task force. Graver works hand-in-hand with a man named Alejandro, played by Benecio Del Toro, an enigmatic man who becomes the scariest man in the room, just by walking into a room, and knows all too well how crime and vice in Mexico operates.
The deeper Kate is pulled into Graver’s operation, the more her eyes are awakened to how sketchy the task force is, how dangerous the situation around her really is and how lethal Alejandro can really be.
I haven’t seen a film so wrought with rich dramatic suspense since No Country For Old Men. Sicario delivers on every promise and poises itself as one of 2015’s best features.
Denis Villeneuve crafted a strong feature on the backbone of Taylor Sheridan’s coherent and smashing screenplay. I was riveted by how well-rounded and balanced Sicario turned out to be in all facets, acting, directing, writing, editing, camerawork; Sicario shot to thrill audiences and scored in every way.
The trifecta of Emily Blunt, Benecio Del Toro and Josh Brolin is as good as it gets.
Blunt has built a career of being a consistent and steady presence in whichever feature she stars in and she simply shines in this leading role. She plays a remarkably sturdy leading female character who doesn’t fall victim to a man’s authority and her character truly inspires the audience to sympathize with her character.
Benicio Del Toro was the perfect mix of James Bond and Anton Chigurh in the role of Alejandro. He doesn’t need a license to kill; all he has is ice water in his veins and nothing but contempt in his heart and he uses whatever he has to to get the man who ruined his life in this movie. Del Toro’s character is the Sicario of the picture: a badass and he plays this role to a T.
Josh Brolin is well within his comfort zone and delivers a nice performance. He certainly has a nice rapport with Del Toro’s character and I believe this is the second film they have worked together in; the first I believe was Inherent Vice, but his character takes a backseat to Del Toro’s for a change, but he still does a good job.
The supporting cast including Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffery Donovan, Maximilliano Hernádez are all contributing pieces to the narrative. They are practically reduced to props, in a way.
In terms of the technical, this is as simple and well-balanced of a film as you will ever see.
Roger Deakins’ work on the camera is positively on point, which was a big help for Joe Walker in the post-production phase and Patrice Vermette’s production design was jarring yet captivating; a house with corpses hidden in the walls is a striking image yet it lingers because it is so twisted it’s beautiful.
The music of Jóhann Jóhannsson was used perfectly; instead of overbearing the scene and completely enveloping the moment it just subtly resonates in the background and heightens the drama of the moment; for instance when the cartel member goes home with Blunt’s character and she tries to defend herself but ends up getting strangled on the floor, the music stays steady and doesn’t attempt to overbear the action; that worked exactly the way I liked it.
Taylor Sheridan crafted a robust story that ties up every loose end, was completely unpredictable and unapologetic, and with Denis Villeneuve’s vision this was a marvelously crafted feature that hearkened me back to No Country For Old Men; it is uncanny how many cues and familiarities this movie has with the Best Picture winner, except the ending. The ending to Sicario is more Chinatown, than the abrupt cutoff that No Country For Old Men pulled.
In terms of great acting, directing, writing, editing, camerawork, score, Sicario checks every box and the result is one of 2015’s best films to date. It works like a smoldering material but once it reaches its core temperature, the flames can resonate and leaves a wicked burn on the audience.