Film Review: Sicario

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Emily Blunt; Benicio del Toro; Josh Brolin



By Ross Gallacher


America’s ongoing war with the drug cartels of South America is in danger of becoming a modern cinematic cliché. Stephen Soderbergh’s Traffic breathed fresh air into the thriller/action genre and paved the way for films like City of God and even the masterpiece that is Breaking Bad, but we now live in a world in which writers believe that big names and big explosions can replace plot. However, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario brings us an exhilarating tale of intertwined law enforcement and drug-supply agencies without shoving its truly fantastic cast down our throats.

Emily Blunt portrays FBI Agent Kate Macer, who works in the Special Weapons and Tactics Team, and begins the film by carrying out a kidnapping raid. The raid fails spectacularly but she is still asked by her bosses to volunteer to be a part of a mysterious team. Special agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) hand picks agent Macer to be part of his black-ops team but charms his way around telling us why he chose her. But it’s the constantly on edge Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) who is the real centre of attention – a former prosecutor and a loose cannon whose trembling nightmares embody the narrative’s anxious heart of darkness. Like Agent Macer, the audience is left guessing what the objectives of the task force are but Alejandro insists that bringing cartel kingpin Mañuel Diaz (Bernardo P Saracino) to justice would be like finding “a vaccine” for the escalating horrors.

Macer meets Alejandro for the first time on a private jet as they fly, not to El Paso, where Kate had been told the mission would take place, but the town of Juárez, a hotbed of inter-cartel warfare. While Sicario may be guilty of celebrating the “murder capital” reputation of Juárez, it does so in a way that is horribly efficient, exploiting our anxieties and expectations with cruel precision. Cinematographer Roger Deakin, paints a land of brooding twilight skies and unforgiving deserts and disturbing and gut wrenching crime scenes revealing exactly what the agents are up against. The intensity of these scenes will truly leave you clenching your teeth and your fists while you take in the sheer brutality of it all.

If the brilliant writing and frighteningly informative scenery isn’t enough to reel you in then the stellar performances of Sicario’s lead actors will convince you. Brolin’s frustrating yet charming Agent Graver provides relief from the uneasy thrill and Del Toro has the most eye-catching role as the film’s central riddle, but Blunt effortlessly steals the show by playing the most authentic character. Blunt utilizes her tough image from the underrated Edge of Tomorrow and keeps the film on the right side of reality by carefully balancing her performance between defiance and vulnerability, physicality and emotion.

A consistently beautiful and thought provoking film, Sicario is simply one of the best films of the year. If you decide to only see one film this month, make sure you see this one.}