Overview: An FBI agent joins a task force assigned to dramatically overreact and kick a few hornet nests. She finds herself morally compromised in a line of work not meant for ordinary law enforcement. Lionsgate; 2015; Rated R; 121 minutes.
Cartel Tierra: Early in Sicario, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) tells Kate (Emily Blunt) “Nothing will make sense to your American ears. In the end you will understand.” It’s a statement that doubles as the thesis of the movie. These uncharted territories leave Kate feeling vulnerable, asking questions every step of the way to determine what her role in all of this is. She’s a good agent. We see her efficiently lead a team of FBI agents in a hostage takedown in the movie’s opening scene, so when she’s recruited for a special task force composed of Special Forces members and Department of Defense operatives, it’s unclear why she’s needed at all. If anything she’s shown to be detrimental to the team in some scenarios, even if she’s a literal lifesaver on other occasions. Blunt doesn’t get much material to work with beyond a pissed off or confused grimace in the first half of the movie. She gives off some good anger and grimaces, so we can let it slide. The second half involves Blunt getting more hands on with material and possibly earning herself a best actress nomination.
The Real Motherload: Though Blunt is the film’s lead, the movie belongs almost entirely to Benicio Del Toro. Del Toro’s body of work is varied from scary hitmen to campy black market dealers insulting raccoons. For his most grounded work to date, look no further than Sicario. A blend of Breaking Bad’s Mike Ehrmantraut hitman/cleaner and the inhuman persona of the notorious Gustavo Fring, Alejandro moves across the screen with one purpose: he goes where he is sent. A shell of the human he once was, Alejandro resembles more of a vengeful spirit than a man. Meanwhile, Josh Brolin plays a tight-lipped government agent with loose morals and casual appearance, often wearing flip flops and shirts you’d see on those sitcom specials when they go to Hawaii. He’s got some funny moments, but this is a man who means business. In any other movie, actors like Brolin and Blunt would be the standouts. Del Toro’s performance is so good it creates a vacuum in which all other performances are sucked into. It’s just not fair.
Dinámica Duo: Sicario has even more superstar work behind the lens. Roger Deakins, whose presence is always reason enough to watch any movie, creates a muddled and drab look to the film. The imagery is still striking but in a manner that feels filthy. Darkness enwraps the characters at night, lending an uncertain isolation and unfamiliarity to several border towns. Deakins’ shot composition with the excellent direction from Denis Villeneueve makes Sicario a match made in heaven.
An Un-Winnable War: Sicario isn’t an action movie but it works well enough to be considered one. The plotting sufficiently builds tension, showing us the ramifications of the cartels in Mexico and police forces doing little policing. (As someone with a close connection to Mexico, it’s disturbingly accurate.) When Kate rides along for the first time through Juarez and bodies are displayed in public, the sense of dread feels earned and not cheap. You’re unsure whether those bodies were meant for them as a warning or the aftermath of some previous affair. The world of Sicario is unsettling and mean. There’s a relentless sense of violence from which we never truly escape. Kate only catches the back end of the violent cartel streaks. She’s submerged into the seedier side of the law and works as the eyes of the audience. Her perspective is our perspective. When she’s in the dark, we’re in the dark. Once her American ears come to understand what’s happening, so does the audience. But it’s the violence which has Kate question what she, or anyone else, is doing in this situation. How do you win an un-winnable war?
Overall: With Sicario, Villeneuve marks his spot in global cinema with one of the year’s best films.