“War is cruelty, there is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” –William T. Sherman
Sicario is the latest film from up and coming director Denis Villenueve (Enemy, Prisoners), and tackles the harsh realities of the drug war and cartel prominence on U.S. soil. Emily Blunt plays a top FBI agent that is asked to join a task force, led by Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), focused on taking down the cartel and eradicating their presence from our side of the border. She is kept in the dark about what it is they’re actually doing, and soon realizes the moral and legal aspects of their mission cross a line that she might not be willing to cross.
Much like his previous film Prisoners, Villeneuve is able to weave a very dark tale shrouded in mystery, where you’re never quite sure where you’ll end up by the end. Sicario is remarkably slow, but always engaging and never dull. The film is much less interested in the shootouts and carnage, than it is in building an unsettling atmosphere around these characters that you’re not sure you can ever fully trust. Though Emily Blunt is our main protagonist, the real star of the film is Benicio Del Toro’s character, Alejandro, a soft talking mercenary that has little sympathy for those in the way of the mission. The cast is solid all the way around, but audiences may be disappointed in the portrayal of Blunt’s character in the film because it goes against expectations that many will have going in. Needless to say, it’s also one of the beauties of diving head first into a film like Sicario, where Hollywood conventions are firmly thrown out the window.
Renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men) helps create an amazing sense of claustrophobia and tension throughout the film from beautiful overhead shots of driving through the city of Juarez to an infrared excursion down a cartel hideout. The pulsating soundtrack is greatly contrasted with complete moments of silence that never let the audience feel at ease, and the tension only continues to ramp up as the movie slowly builds toward a gripping finale.
This film isn’t without flaws though, as some characters are unimportant and don’t do much to drive the story along. A certain known actor plays a small part in the film that would’ve been better played by a nobody, since all I could think during his scenes were, “Why is this guy in the movie?” The slow pace and unrelenting brutality of the film could also put-off some viewers, but that’s not really a knock on the movie.
Overall Score: 4/5 Stars
Sicario is a gripping drug-war thriller that is also a breath of fresh air as it doesn’t take the boring Hollywood formula for making a movie, and instead is filled brutal realism and surprising turns that you could usually only find in foreign markets.
If you enjoyed Sicario, the most similar films I can recommend are the brilliant Elite Squad films from Brazil that tackle drug trafficking in favelas over there, and also Zero Dark Thirty for its similar pace and tactical squad approach to completing a mission.
If you liked this review tell your friends and loved ones, and I will soon be writing more as I finally settle into a routine now that I’ve moved to Austin.