Film review: Sicario

Emily Blunt in Sicario
Emily Blunt in Sicario

Joseph Austin reviews drug war thriller Sicario.

Driven by compelling performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro, Denis Villeneuve’s latest film, Sicario, is a brutal blend of intense action and powerful drama.

Though hampered slightly through its narrow narrative scope, Villeneuve’s feature builds suspense to near perfection, while also offering a horrifying look at the drug cartels of Mexico.

Sicario opens with a bang and never really looks back, as Blunt’s hopeful FBI agent Kate Macer leads a bust that uncovers the savage nature of one of the most notorious drug cartels in Mexico.

Operating near the border in Arizona, Macer is recruited into an elite government response team by task force official Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and mysterious consultant Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro).

Venturing deep into the heart of gangland Mexico, Macer is forced to question everything she believes in order to survive.

Sicario is one of the best thrillers in recent times.

Villenueve hardly ever misses an opportunity to increase the tension – something that worked so brilliantly in his 2013 film Prisoners.

This feat is achieved through both stunning cinematography and a pulsing score.

Award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins gives it a real gritty feel that immerses the viewer into this kill or be killed world.

On the other hand Deakins, who also worked on Prisoners as well lensing Villenueve’s upcoming Blade Runner sequel, lays out stylish shots of Mexican wastelands and beautifully crafted scenes that evoke his earlier work on No Country for Old Men and Skyfall.

The score by Johann Johannsson hangs over the images like a stalking beast about to pounce at any moment. The two make for a killer combination.

Emily Blunt more than holds her own here among Hollywood heavyweights Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro.

Blunt’s idealistic Macer tries to be the good cop among the bad, but Brolin’s shady Matt Graver and Del Toro’s even shadier Alejandro are in full control, placing themselves somewhere on a line between good-guy government pawn and corrupt criminal.

Del Toro is perfect for the role and he makes for the film’s most interesting character.

He’s a lone wolf motivated by revenge, “and this is a land of wolves,” he says.

Throughout Sicario we’re kept in the dark as to what’s really going on. A lot of the time you don’t really know what’s happening.

Like Macer you feel on edge at all times, none more so than in the alien landscape of Juarez, Mexico.

“Nothing will make sense to your American ears,” says Alejandro to Macer before their mission.

Rolling slums, mutilated bodies hanging high above the traffic and night time light shows of gunfire and explosions.

It’s scary stuff that’s really going on, but Graver’s team are in and out before Villenueve explores any underlying thematic issues here.

This is perhaps the film’s only drawback – its inability to explore the wider issues at work in this hellish drug war.

Sicario is one of those films that either draws you in or completely isolates you.

A film you perhaps only visit the once, Sicario, which is Mexican slang for ‘hitman’, is uninviting in many ways.

But if you can shoot through its hardened narrative and alienating approach, it makes for a rare and thrilling piece of cinema that goes in for the kill.