Directed by Denis Villenueve
When one thinks of autumn, thoughts of leaves gently floating in the breeze and children going trick-or-treating on Halloween immediately come to mind. Another thought that comes to mind is the start of the Oscar season, that glorious time of year when studios release their more coveted films and engage in a battle royale to secure a win at the Academy Awards. “Sicario,” a taut crime-thriller driven by raw emotion and fierce action, is one such film.
Set against the treacherous backdrop of the U.S.-Mexican border and directed by Academy Award–nominated director Denis Villeneuve, the film stars Emily Blunt as Kate Macer, an idealistic FBI agent determined to make a difference. When a kidnapping raid results in the discovery of several decomposing corpses hidden behind the walls of a derelict Arizona house and the sudden deaths of two fellow officers, Kate joins an interagency joint task force focused on apprehending the people responsible, only to find herself questioning everything she believes in as she is thrust onto the frontlines of the escalating war against drugs.
“Sicario” is, simply put, a powerfully moving and visually stunning experience. The vast desert scenery, barbaric interrogation torture-sequences and claustrophobic firefights work in synchronization to create a film that not only moves at a breakneck pace, but leaves viewers in a perpetual state of suspense from start to finish. Villeneuve, who is no stranger when it comes to directing thriller films, manages to once again succeed in this all-too-familiar territory by dealing with the topic of Mexican drug cartels in an uncomfortable yet graceful manner while simultaneously exploring the aforementioned topic from an entirely different angle.
The plot itself is not only original and entertaining, but also finds a wholly refreshing way to communicate with the audience in a beautifully minimalist manner. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is dark enough to make “Sicario” terrifying and gripping at the same time. Villeneuve, meanwhile, uses the slow-burn approach to gradually unfurl the narrative tapestry he has created and, with the exception of a slightly distracting subplot involving a Mexican police officer’s personal life, ensures that the story flows remarkably well. But despite the impressive craftsmanship, the layered performances of the main cast are what truly power this drama.
Blunt’s performance as Kate is perhaps the best she has ever given, primarily because there is a depth that goes beyond playing a fresh-faced agent with a strong sense of right and wrong. Her sudden loss of innocence prevents her from turning into a caricature, making it seem as if she wants the audience to know how it feels to have one’s notions of justice questioned.
Josh Brolin, who portrays CIA officer and task force leader Matt Graver, is a good foil to Blunt as his character is everything Kate isn’t: cold, cruel and fully committed to going as far as it takes to serve his country. Benicio Del Toro equally shines as Alejandro Gillick, Graver’s enigmatic associate and a former Mexican prosecutor who is more than he seems. He is so immersed in the role that viewers are left hanging from the edge of their seats at every possible moment.
Despite the fact that they aren’t heavily featured, the members of the supporting cast still manage to add color to the morally ambiguous world into which Kate is drawn. Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), Kate’s partner, is in good force, as is Victor Garber, who is on hand in a minor role as Kate’s boss. Former “The Walking Dead” star Jon Bernthal rounds out the cast as Ted, an old acquaintance of Reggie’s who acts as a major catalyst into the film’s harrowing final act.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins, best known for previously working with Villeneuve on his 2013 film “Prisoners,” contributes by utilizing the camera to make it appear as though viewers are tethered to Kate as she drives through the slums of Juarez, Mexico, and makes her way through drug-smuggling tunnels. Johann Johannsson’s score also provides heightened tension every step of the way and never falters, going so far as to magnify a character’s emotions in a quiet moment or heighten a feeling of dread during a suspenseful scene.
Disturbing and hard-hitting, “Sicario” proves to be just as masterful as any dramatic film. It manages to exceed all expectations with both a stellar central cast and an exciting story, revealing what can only be described as a twisted tale that will leave viewers guessing until the very end.