Sicario in Mexico, means Hitman; and the film makes no bones about what the American drug war has become. After a kidnap raid in the Arizona suburbs reveals a heinous multiple murder, FBI Tactical Assault agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited into a multi-agency task force. The team leader Matt (Josh Brolin) has assembled the group to take out a large Mexican Cartel.
Denis Villeneuve (director behind Prisoners, Incendies and Enemy) has added another beautifully executed film to his eclectic resume. Collaborating for a second time (Prisoners was the first) with the best cinematographer never to have won an Oscar, Roger Deakins (Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption), Villeneuve’s Sicario is one of the visual sublime films that I can remember. Using an array of formal styles and cameras mounted to the front of insertion vehicles, beneath planes, drones or even utilising thermal and night vision goggles; you’re either blubbering by the staggering artistry of each shot and immersed in the action in a way that makes your hairs stand on end. There areso many amazing visuals that are hard to shake; plane silhouettes gliding across the arid borderlands, black SUV convoys that move like they’re linked with chains through the hostile Juarez streets or the unforgettable shots Matt (Brolin’s) secret Delta Force, mercenaries descending into darkness contrasted by the sublime picturesque sunset.
Villeneuve is also beautifully versed in denoting power with staging. In one of the signature scenes of the film as Blunt’s Macer and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) plead with their commanding officer (played by the always reliable character actor Victor Garber) about some of the things that they’ve witnessed in this elite unit and how they essentially skate circles around the law, Garber does a beautiful job of both showing how pained he is about state of the situation and also looking through Blunt’s Kate to reason where they’re getting their orders. They’re not making their own rules, they’re sanctioned to behave this way; as the realisation becomes stark Villeneuve does a tremendous job changing the perspective to place the huge boardroom table between them. Garber has cross the threshold signified by the corporate symbol; Kate begins to register the insurmountable force she’s up against.
Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer does something spectacular; she’s both the most vital leading character of Sicario and the most inconsequential. Writer Taylor Sheridan and Blunt under Villeneuve’s direction craft an extremely unique, strong female character whose backstory is barely mentioned. She’s drawn to her current profession because of its sense of right and justice. As part of the tactical response unit she and her team are called upon for an essential deadly force. In the U.S/Mexico border region, the socio-political quagmire the less distinguishable right and wrong become from one and other.
Josh Brolin’s cocksure Matt slinks through one extremely intense situation after another with a confidence and casual posture of a man that’s become totally relaxed in the face of high order violence and death. There’s a kind of stoner cool to the way he ploughs through each scenario and intentionally manipulates government agents and agencies alike on this chess board.
Benicio Del Toro is absolutely mesmerising as Alejandro, who we’re told, was a lawyer whose family was murdered by the cartels and then became an instrument to inflict carnage on their world. Del Toro reminds me of the way you feel when Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) enters into Pirates of the Caribbean and ultimately steals the entire film. When he’s interacting with people attempting to escape the country he’s got such an innocuous and mellifluous approach; but he’s always on Brolin’s leash. When he’s let off and placed into some of these hair raising situations, he’s tuned in to the feelings of those around him like a seismograph can sense rumblings in volatile earth.
Writer Taylor Sheridan’s script does a great job of punctuating the dialogue with barbs of commentary about the real life situation without having a didactic political agenda. Sicario doesn’t play fear monger to the audience, the cartel wars beyond the border are terrifying but it begins to ask questions about the ‘why’ and uses a trio of characters at its centre that can all relate to the situation differently. Brolin’s Matt thrives on the chaos; Blunt’s Kate is naive, untainted by the unjust, but at the same time someone who seeks out the most binary role in the fight; and finally Alejandro (Del Toro) – without completely divulging detail – has been shaped by the situation and pairs up with Matt because it serves a purpose.
Sicario looks so good that it’s impossible not to gush; features excellent performances by the trio of central characters and forces you to wrestle with the muck of privatised war.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Director of Photography: Roger Deakins
Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Victor Garber, Maximiliano Hernández,