I’ve been really looking forward to Sicario for quite some time now. Not only was the film shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico (a short distance from where I currently write this review), but is also the second collaboration between director Denis Villeneuve and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, with the two previously working on the criminally underrated (no pun intended) 2013 film, Prisoners. I’ve been reading in the trades ever since Sicario premiered at Cannes earlier this year was that this was an even better film than Prisoners, and featured some terrific performances from Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro. The film finally expanded to my area, and I took some time Monday afternoon to go see the film and deliver this said review. Here’s my review of Sicario.
Emily Blunt plays a FBI agent tasked with kidnapping and special weapons, with her being stationed in Arizona, where the war on drugs south of the border has made its way up to Phoenix. Blunt’s character is then given the opportunity to hunt down a high-ranking drug lord in Mexico, with the help of Josh Brolin’s cocky/arrogant Department of Defense advisor and a mysterious man named Alejandro, played by Del Toro. During their trip to Juarez and other parts of the American Southwest, Blunt’s character, Kate, discovers what she’s really there for, and that everything isn’t quite as it seems.
Villeneuve directs the film from a script by Taylor Sheridan, a first-time screenwriter whose best known for his work in the early seasons of the hit FX show Sons of Anarchy. I bring up the script because of how smart and real it often feels at time, and Villeneuve doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the cartel war happening down south. There are some genuinely brutal moments in this film, which made me harken back to the documentary Cartel Land, which was released earlier this year and was about the struggle these small Mexican towns face against the cartels in the region (my review). And what I thought was really excellent early on was there’s a scene toward the beginning of the film, where Blunt and her FBI team raid a house in Arizona, and they uncover something in the house that’s incredibly unsettling. But what makes this work so well is that immediately after this discover, Blunt and her entire team are outside of the house, bending over either throwing up or holding it back due to the unsettling discovery. This stood out to me because if this script/movie was a cliché, by the books thriller, the men in Blunt’s unit would be giving our protagonist a hard time for not being able to stomach such a brutal discovery. Everybody in the unit, men and women, are having a hard time grasping what they’ve just witnessed, and because of this scene very early on in the film, as well as an exhilarating and enthralling 2-hour crime epic after, makes Sicario quite possibly the best film of 2015 by far.
The film works both as a tense and exciting action thriller as well as an engaging political thriller of sorts that while this particular story may be fictional, the events and brutality of the drug war in Mexico is far from anything fictional. Prime examples include a sequence in which a team of FBI/CIA agents are driving through and witness mutilated bodies having been hung underneath an overpass, as well as a tense shootout on a highway and a slew of exciting sequences sprinkled throughout the film. It also doesn’t hurt that the film’s primary leads are terrific. Emily Blunt gives what is easily the finest performance of her career to date, with a (hopeful) slew of awards season nominations not far in her future. Josh Brolin also does some of his finest work her as the slimy DOD advisor, but the scene stealer has to be Benicio Del Toro’s brutal and subtlety terrifying Alejandro, a character with a low-moral center whose one of the more questionable parts of this task force. Del Toro rarely ever gives a bad or forgettable performance, but this is one of his very best in a long line of great work, and hopefully there is some room for Del Toro in the crowded awards season.
But my biggest hope is that Sicario will continue to captivate both critics and audiences to the point where everything in the film, from writing, to directing, to acting, and especially Deakins’ flawless camera work, get lots of attention toward the end of the year. Sicario is that perfect type of action thriller, a film that is extremely relevant to real-world events, features a strong and terrific female lead, and a film that makes you think about what our government is doing south of the border, and is what they’re doing worth it? An action film that makes an audience think and go as far to question our governments participation in one of the strangest wars going on? I think that alone is worth the price of admission to Sicario, which is now playing nationwide.