Emily Blunt in Sicario

‘Sicario’ Review

In Spanish, the term “Sicario” refers to a hitman who generally has connections to the Latin American mafia; and as this film explains, was coined in ancient times when Jerusalem zealots assassinated Romans on their own turf. It’s also a fitting title for a modern day thriller about a government task force sent to take down a Mexican drug cartel.

With outstanding performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro, and consistently delivered drama and suspense from director Denis Villeneuve, Sicario is almost certain to be up for at least a couple Oscars this season.

The film opens with a brutally intense sequence as FBI agent Kate Macer (Blunt), an overt idealist, discovers a house full of bodies while investigating a kidnapping case in Arizona. Upon discovering that the people here are part of a larger drug cartel, Macer is both traumatized and at the same time eager to join a mysterious government affiliate named Matt (Josh Brolin) when he recruits her to join his crew on a mission to the U.S.-Mexican border.

While kept out of the loop for the bulk of this operation, Macer only knows that their job is to eliminate the network of a crime lord named Manuel Diaz, with the assistance of a no-nonsense hitman named Alejandro (Del Toro). Yet as the mission progresses, she learns just how different the rules are here than how she imagined, as all manner of black and white wither away in a realm of gray morality.

Coming off the eerily suspenseful and critically acclaimed 2013 thriller Prisoners, Villeneuve returns to this genre with a little less popcorn flick flare in favor of an even grittier film. Once again working with Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, Villeneuve and the other filmmakers on this project use Sicario as a means of showcasing a horrendous conflict which continues to rage on in our backyard (by our I mean Americans). Perhaps the most gruesome scene is when Macer and her crew come upon a display of corpses hung by their necks right in the middle of the city of Juarez.

This moment is then followed by a tense shootout on the highway as the crew is headed back to base. Before the insurgents they encounter have a chance to make a move, Alejandro guns them all down in full view of the surrounding citizens, which comes as a shock to the already frazzled and by the book agent Macer. All the while the cinematography is characterized primarily by tight framing and bleak, overhead shots of the afternoon traffic. Then when all is said and done, one of the crew members states that this incident will make the headlines of every major newspaper in America, in which another replies that it won’t even make the local one in Juarez.

Yet while this scene will stick with viewers, the second half of the film never quite matches this level of greatness. Part of the problem is that screenwriter Taylor Sheridan never really establishes a clear protagonist, as Macer is intentionally portrayed as an uninformed outsider thrown into a world of utter chaos, while Matt and Alejandro are too blatantly amoral to be viewed as heroes. By the end, the film leaves us with more questions than answers, which is not a bad thing as it brings to mind classics like The Silence of the Lambs and No Country for Old Men, the latter which coincidentally starred Brolin and was also shot by Deakins. There’s also an underground shootout sequence in the final act that directly references Zero Dark Thirty.

As previously mentioned, the stellar ensemble cast really carries Sicario. An action movie veteran, Blunt brings the same level of commanding screen presence as she has in her other films, but this time with even more complexity and degree of emotion than in, say, Edge of Tomorrow, also one of her best roles. Portraying a character that is both fiercely determined and hesitant, Blunt does a terrific job in exploring the character’s evolution from rule-abiding law enforcer to realist. Likewise, Del Toro deserves a nomination as well for his depiction of the film’s retribution-seeking mercenary. Ever since The Usual Suspects, he’s made an art out of using his brooding eyes and deadpan facial expressions in his films, one of the many highlights in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s an added bonus that he and Blunt are dynamic together, which hopefully means that this won’t be their last time working together.

It may not be the best political drama/thriller, but Sicario is certainly one of the best films to have come out this year and will hopefully gain notoriety come awards season.

Grade: B+

Sicario Poster

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