Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Bernthal, Maximiliano Hernández, and Jeffrey Donovan
The analogy of a pack of wolves is utilized in Denis Villeneuve’s drug cartel film “Sicario”. It’s a good analogy for the characters in the film that are a mix of operatives working against and with one another for some sense of control amidst chaos and violence. Villeneuve makes films about violence and the people that are administering and receiving the abuse. The film focuses on the American drug problem and the cartels that operate along the border of Mexico. “Sicario” is a tense and foreboding film, one that drops the viewer in the middle of everything that is happening and moves them along for the journey. Villeneuve is an exceptional director and “Sicario” is a wonderfully constructed film that composes an atmosphere of consistent dread with characters forced into a struggle of morals.
Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an idealistic FBI agent vigilantly working a deadly case against the war on drugs. After raiding a house filled with corpses an explosion kills members of her team. She is enlisted by an elite government task force fronted by a secretive official (Josh Brolin) and partnered with a mysterious liaison named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Kate volunteers for the task force and is immediately taken to the El Paso/Juárez border for a secret mission.
“Sicario” is structured with a heavy dose of suspense and an atmosphere that lingers with fear. It’s quite an effective composition that is accomplished by impressive design elements and a narrative that places the viewer at the center of a scenario that is already in motion. Written by Taylor Sheridan, the script operates from mainly one perspective, following Kate into the fog of this secretive operation with ambiguous operatives. In one scene Kate is swiftly taken into a tactical meeting, told to blindly follow orders from a mysterious man who doesn’t fit the mold of the group, hastily transported into Mexico to extract an informant she never gets to look at, and forced into a gunfight at the border. It’s paced almost frantically, switching views from inside the crammed caravan of vehicles to high above the crowded city. Behind the camera is Roger Deakins, a master of photography who composes “Sicario” as a visual descent into darkness, a reflection of the characters in the film whose only obsessive focus is the mission and nothing else. The finale takes a turn towards pure vengeance, an exploitive measure that offers a moment of forceful justification played solely for sensation, which somewhat upends the meticulous pacing and procedure established at the beginning of the film.
Emily Blunt does a great job portraying the morally torn agent, split between doing what is right by the law and what is right for the law. Josh Brolin plays vague with arrogant glee. Wearing sandals in the office and sleeping soundly on plane trips only to turn around in tactical gear and night vision goggles, Brolin pulls it all off with ease. Benicio Del Toro plays a more complicated role, a man with a tragic past doing terrible acts for whoever calls for him. Del Toro has played this version to greater and lesser degrees in films before; still he adds something unique and intriguing to the role.
The treatment of the war on drugs in this film is one of disenchantment, a no-win situation with a faceless monster. It’s one of the main reasons why “Sicario” feels so bleak. Even when action leads to resolution it’s never satisfying but instead is portrayed by ongoing gunfire blasts seen in the dark or heard in the distance, a war with no victors but rather a continuous carousel of chaos. To this point “Sicario” has completely succeeded.
4.25 out of 5.00