Sicario – Movie Review

Sicario

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) returns with expert cinematographer Roger Deakins to deliver the most visually stunning and deeply unsettling film of the year.

Sicario is moody and stylish tale of a war between a US drug task force on one side and the Sonara drug cartel on the other, literally divided by an 18 foot high fence running along the Juarez Valley/Texas border. Emily Blunt plays Kate, a DEA Agent recruited by the mysterious task force headed by Josh Brolin. The task force’s objectives and the reason for Blunt’s recruitment are unclear with Brolin simply explaining their objective is to ‘stir the pot’ and ‘to dramatically overreact’ to the Juarez drug-cartel seeping into southern USA. What is clear is that the government sanctioned militant group is not bound by procedure or legality and appears to have a higher motive involving the mysterious Colombian operative Alejandro (Benicio del Toro). As Blunt’s idealistic character is thrown into the covert operations, she is bewildered by the harshness of the battle being fought and  tactics being used.

There are three stars of Sicario: director Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and Benicio del Toro.

Villeneuve again demonstrates (as he did with the excellent Prisoners) a talent for building painstaking levels of tension and shining a light on the darkest places we never hope to experience. Villeneuve again leaves you feeling dirty, grimy, like you need to take a shower…and its a good thing.

The dream team of Deakins and Villeneuve

Deakins complements Villeneuve’s dark and moody style perfectly and proves he is hands down the best cinematographer working today. Incorporating lingering shots of the harsh desert landscape (think of his work in No Country for Old Men), first-person night vision and thermal imaging and absolutely stunning aerial shots of Juarez and the stretching roads feeding into the city (reminiscent of the recent season of True Detective) pillared by an ominous score – it all has the effect of building a deep sense of unease in the pit of your stomach which is capitalized upon by Villeneuve.

Inside the lens, Benicio del Toro makes the film his own with an intimating and enigmatic portrayal of Alejandro. You find yourself drawn to Del Toro’s hulking presence, especially in moments of calm where he actually has the most scope to move. It’s some of the best work I’ve seen from Del Toro in years.

The same can be said of Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin. Blunt advances and builds upon the gritty and rugged femininity she has developed over the years in films such as Looper and Edge of Tomorrow by adding a new layer of wide-eyed exasperation and vulnerability to her character. Again it is probably her best work to date. Brolin’s role is more straight forward but no less engaging as the relaxed and confident cowboy pulling the strings of the operation. Brolin convincingly communicates to the audience that behind Matt’s calm and wisecracking demeanor is a brutal ruthlessness to get the job done at all costs.

From the first two-thirds of the movie, it appears that Sicario is headed for greatness, but unfortunately the plot ultimately devolves into a somewhat generic tale of drug cartel revenge, with any bigger picture resolutions being left by the wayside. While still a neat, tension-filled tale of  drug-cartel enforcement,  Villeneuve’s moody direction and Deakin’s stylish flair give an illusion of depth to Sicario’s plot that doesn’t actually exist. The same tale told by a different director and cinematographer could easily be lost among the wash of yearly drug-trade thrillers.

Because of this Sicario won’t be the best film of the year. It will however, leave you in stunned silence from beginning to end and play in the back of mind long afterwards like a gruesome car crash witnessed on the way to work.  An excellent film to experience,  just don’t expect a call back if you bring a date to this one.

Pick up the blu-ray here.

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