Sicario (2015)

2 Oct

Mexican cartels are ruthless. Most of the American public seems aware of the horrifying lengths cartel members will go to in order to secure their trade route for shipment of illicit drugs, but what happens when cartel operations start occurring deep within U.S. territory? Sicario opens with this situation, as FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) leads a raid into a suburban Phoenix home.

We learn the house is actually controlled by a notorious cartel leader named Manuel (Bernardo P. Saracino), which prompts Kate to “volunteer” joining a combined special task force led by a mysterious Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) set on taking out Manuel and other cartel leaders. Hired on as a special cartel consultant is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), another mysterious man who Kate grows increasingly skeptical of.

It becomes clear that Kate has gotten in way over her head, as her goodwill nature conflicts strongly with these rugged government types who don’t exactly play things “by the books”. But these things must be pushed aside if Kate wants any chance of survival past the border.

As the only major speaking female in the entire film, Emily Blunt has a demanding presence on screen, and her performance expertly captures a personality desperate for control in a new world fuelled by chaos. Though she has ventured into action fare before (Looper, Edge of Tomorrow) never before have we seen Blunt fierce and powerful –  even in a foreign land she clearly has no inner knowledge of.

The minor setback of Sicario lies at it’s pure narrative level. Written by Taylor Sheridan, the film never fully hashes out what it wants to say about its characters, and the plot is mostly revealed to us scene by scene via expository dialogue (think of the typical military leader standing before a projector saying “Alright guys, listen up: here is your mission….”). Still, it works, thanks to some brilliant directorial execution by Denis Villeneuve.

Like in his previous film Prisoners, the most powerful moments of Sicario hit the audience quietly as we reflect on what’s going on in between the moments of action we see. Through carefully selected collections of seemingly insignificant objects like the Mexican desert, a drainpipe, or a soccer ball, individual shots gain tremendous collective power and Villeneuve uses enough restraint to let his audience read between the lines. Shot by the great veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, No Country For Old MenSicario looks absolutely breathtaking in every shot; dimly lit silhouettes of an American military team look terribly ominous against a softly fading Mexican sunset. The score by Oscar-winning Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson is worth mentioning as it brilliantly adds to the textual anxiety of the film.

Incredibly suspenseful, the nail-biting tension of Sicario goes on overdrive during the film’s last half; I don’t think I have sweated more in a theatre all year. Building on the unpredictability of violence and international conflict, Villeneuve is clearly a master auteur at work, and we can tell he is in complete control of every frame.

Bottom Line: Unbearingly suspenseful, Sicario is a complex and rewarding film, made possible by Villeneuve’s masterful directorial execution and a standout performance by Emily Blunt. 

You never mess with Emily Blunt when she has a gun in her hands.

Rating: 8/10 

Film Recipe: The best episode of Breaking Bad + Zero Dark Thirty + moral ambiguity 

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3 Responses to “Sicario (2015)”

  1. Consume and Review October 10, 2015 at 2:04 am #

    This has been one of my favorite films of the year. The combination of Villeneuve’s direction, Deakins’ cinematography and Johannsson’s score was so effective. It’s just a shame Sicario was ultimately let down by the script. Still, I would love to this team tackle new projects.

    • Cineman17 October 30, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

      Awesome! Glad you seemed to have liked it as much as me. Honestly, this was one of the best-directed films I have seen in a long time. Can’t wait to see what Villeneuve does next.

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  1. Arrival (2016) | A Journey Through Cinema - November 16, 2016

    […] latest from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Enemy), adds to a recent tradition of what has been termed “the science-conscious sci-fi […]

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