Sicario photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgWelcome to Juarez, a Mexican city along the U.S. border just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Juarez is a battleground for drug cartels and one of the most violent places in the world. This is the setting for director Denis Villeneuve’s latest production which details an ever escalating war on drugs.

Sicario relies on a trio of solid performances. Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, a naive FBI agent enlisted to aid in the capture of a dangerous drug lord. She runs a kidnap rescue team, but soon her talents will be pushed far beyond what she normally does. Right from the beginning, Sicario opens with a nightmarish find. Hidden within the plasterboard walls of a harmless looking home are dozens of corpses sealed in plastic bags. It’s a prelude to the vicious methods of the criminal organizations they wish to stop. Josh Brolin is the task force official in charge of the clandestine U.S. operation. Is he DEA? CIA? Something else? His affiliations aren’t clear as is the mysterious “consultant” they hire played by Benicio Del Toro. This the film’s most juicy role and he clearly relishes the part. Kate Macer is by the book. The rest of this crew, seemingly less so.

If there’s an MVP, it’s Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Once again working with Villeneuve (Prisoners), he extracts the art out of a grim drama. There are comprehensive aerial shots of the desert, a stunning night-vision raid, emotive close-ups in a climatic dinner scene. A convoy stopped to a standstill in a traffic jam at the U.S.-Mexico border is a heart-pounding set piece. Car chases are so cliche. Headless figures hung as a warning from an overpass, is a chilling image that lingers long after the picture is over. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s spare music with it’s punchy tones, is rather effective as well.  This is the same guy responsible for the lush orchestrations of The Theory of Everything. Talk about contrasts. It’s more sound design than melody, but the score mines a truly suspenseful feeling.

Sicario is an experience. An air of hopelessness permeates the atmosphere. This isn’t a detailed investigation. It’s a bleak mood piece that gives the viewer a you-are-there perspective. Director Villeneuve showcases the corrupt measures utilized to combat drug trafficking. Sicario is slang for “hitman” in Mexico and the simple title fits. The drama is minimalist, both in the articulated tale as well as style. As Emily Blunt plunges deeper into this sinister world, she registers confusion and uncertainty. To be honest, I wish the script had allowed her to be a bit more shrewd. Although we the audience can easily identify with her bewilderment. Who is this top secret U.S. Agency that she’s working for now? What has she gotten herself into exactly? And is there even a solution to the horrors of the illegal drug trade? So much ambiguity. We don’t get many answers, but such is life I suppose.


14 Responses to “Sicario”

  1. Great review Mark. For me, I felt the ambiguity upped it a notch. The story Villeneuve was telling not only seemed ripped from the headlines (though I didn’t think this was based on any particular mission), but it remained faithful to reality where we often don’t get all the answers or maybe even any of the ones we’re hoping to find. The lack of finality in Sicario I thought boosted it up. A fine, fine film and maybe my favorite of Villeneuve’s. I thnk it”s about time I see Incendies. . . .


  2. Great take on this!


  3. Enjoyed the review..I really have to see the film again as I just seem to have not liked it as much as some and feel as though maybe I missed something. Have another screening on Wednesday of it so I’m going to give it a go!! 😀


  4. Loved the bit about the score. I adore music in movies so I am even more excited than I was to watch this now, especially as it sounds like this truly adds to the atmosphere.

    I believe I’m going to like this a ton, and I have been anticipating it for a while, but it’s intriguing to see your bit about ambiguity. Guess I’ll see where I stand after I watch!


  5. Very intense movie. It kept me intrigued. Scenes looked amazing too. I liked it. 3 1/2 stars


  6. Totally agree that Sicario’s MVP is Roger Deakins’ cinematography. That sunset/night-vision raid is amazing! I also think that the music is effective. You’re right that there’s an air of hopelessness that permeates the whole thing. I think people will love that or hate it. I loved it. I wish the script made her more shrewd as well. There were points that I became annoyed with how powerless and in the dark she was, but as you say, such is life I suppose. She’s a pawn in the system and she has to play the part.


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