9 out of 10
Emily Blunt as Kate Macer
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reg (Daniel Kaluuya) are working in Arizona on missing persons cases when Kate is called before a group of men looking to put together a task force to take down the notorious druglord Manuel Diaz. Kate soon learns there’s more to her teammates on the force than anyone is telling her, particularly the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who may have closer connections to the drug trade than anyone will admit.
When the war on drugs has gotten so dangerous it has literally turned Mexico and the American Southwest into a warzone, the DEA needs to change its approach on dealing with the situation. How said war on drugs has been depicted on film will always have a long-standing benchmark in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic–I also have a personal affinity towards the lower-profile Snitch–but Sicario, directed by Quebec’s Denis Villeneuve, takes a more hard-boiled look at how government agencies will do whatever it takes to stop the flow of drugs into the country and the murderers behind it.
The opening sequence of Emily Blunt’s federal agent and her team busting a house where dozens of bodies have been hidden makes it immediately evident that Kate’s a kick-ass agent who can handle herself as well as any of her male counterparts. That includes her partner Reg, who isn’t even considered when she’s recommended for a position on an inter-agency task force to stop a Mexican kingpin. Kate is wary of the team she’s working with, especially because she isn’t being told everything she needs to know. It seems like a fairly rag-tag bunch that includes many ex-military and others who don’t seem too concerned about following normal procedure, which also goes against Kate’s way of doing things.
Considering the complexities of the relationship between the Mexican cartel and the American government, Sicario thrives on a surprisingly small cast of characters with most of the focus being put on Kate. Emily Blunt once again proves her worth as an actress in her ability to create a character like this, a woman that can be surrounded by men without being even slightly phased but still maintaining her femininity and imbuing her with an abundance of different feelings. (Seriously, Marvel Studios needs to get off their butts and give her the part of Captain Marvel already. Few other actresses could pull off what Blunt does in Sicario and that’s exactly what such a complex role as Carol Danvers would need.)
Stating that Sicario is a slow build isn’t altogether accurate, because there are a number of exciting and tense set pieces throughout, but it always keeps on message in terms of keeping Kate’s viewpoint and having the viewer question the tactics used by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro’s characters. Every once in a while, the film cuts away to a Mexican police officer (played by Maximiliano Hernández), who we see at home with his loving young son, but it takes some time before we realize the significance of this character and how he plays into the story.
The less said about Benicio Del Toro’s character Alejandro the better, as the mystery behind his affiliations and association with the team is something we learn more about as the film proceeds, and it makes later reveals that much more enticing. (The only hint I’ll give is that the film’s title is Spanish for “hitman.”) It’s easily one of the actor’s best roles in years, one which allows him to play a bad ass with a calm and steely demeanor that makes the film’s last half hour some of the best cinema I’ve seen this year once the focus shifts to him.
From the second I saw Incendies, I knew that director Denis Villeneuve was a very special filmmaker, and I’ve been astounded by every thing he’s done since then, from Prisoners to Enemy and now this, as he once again teams with cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Johann Johannsson to create a lush, textured film that’s very different from Prisoners. Deakins’ camera and lighting work really come to the fore in the last half hour, but it’s also interesting to see him working with things like night vision and handheld cameras while still making every shot look fantastic.
The Bottom Line:
Sicario is another brilliant piece of work from Villeneuve, taking a different approach to how the U.S. government deals with Mexican drug cartels in the form of a compelling action-thriller that never loses sight of making its characters feel like real people.
Sicario will open in select cities on Friday, September 18, and then will expand nationwide on October 2.