Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies) has proven himself to be a director with few peers. Now he is at it again, with tough and gritty filmmaking at its finest.
In Mexico, Sicario means hitman. When Arizona FBI agent and kidnap response team leader Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) uncovers a Mexican house of death, her shocking find has profound consequences. Kate is recruited to join a covert black-ops mission headed by a special agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), and a mysterious Colombian operative known as Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Even as Kate tries to convince herself she’s on a hunt for justice, she is thrust into the dark heart of a secret battleground involving ruthless cartels, assassins, clandestine American spies and thousands of innocents.
Sicario explores the journey of an intelligence operation that pushes the rules to engage with those who don’t play by any. Kate is forced to question everything that she believes in order to survive. For screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, a native Texan who grew up traveling south of the border when it was still common to do so, delving into this reality was a personal lure. Sheridan is best known as an actor, specifically for playing Deputy Chief David Hale on Sons of Anarchy. With the probing heart of a writer, he felt called upon to return to his roots, to explore what, over the past decade, had become forbidden zones. He saw that the alluring cross-cultural border of his youth had disappeared. Sheridan realised that that Mexico doesn’t exist any more. Rather, it has become a lawless place, dominated by drugs and corruption. He saw that human decency had disappeared. Slowly, a story began to emerge about a side of the war on drugs few have seen, a tale of ambiguity as the powers that be jockey for control of the trade.
For director Villeneuve, while Sicario focuses on black-ops and Mexican cartels, the story is also about America, about the idealism and realism that clash when it comes to dealing with the problems of other countries. The subject matter is very dark and very ugly, but its execution is pitch perfect – riveting and searing cinema, not for those with weak stomachs. It requires concentration to follow, but that concentration is most certainly rewarded.
Emily Blunt holds her own against two characters, in Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, who play rather sick puppies. Last year she was kicking butt with Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow. Now her persona is more complex and vulnerable. I can’t think of too many actors whose visage is more menacing that Del Toro and he establishes early on in Sicario that he is not to be messed with. Brolin, on the other hand, I categorise as a smiling assassin.
Among the film’s biggest drawcards is its cinematography. The man in charge was Roger Deakins, who has been nominated for 12 Oscars and is responsible for The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall and A Beautiful Mind, among others. With an intense and electrifying soundtrack, Sicario is, without doubt, among the year’s best.
Rated MA, it scores an 8½ out of 10.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Jon Bernthal and Benicio Del Toro
Release Date: 24 September 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television