After his brooding hit, Prisoners, and then his controversial one–Enemy, Denis Villeneuve is back with an even darker, bleaker story.
Sicario follows Kate Macer, an idealistic FBI agent, who does everything by the book and once she’s exposed to a house full of bodies her system cannot take it, neither can her colleagues. She is later recruited by an elite government task force official: Matt (Josh Brolin) to fight against the never-ending war on drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the team sets out on a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.
The opening sequence is a brilliant piece of modern filmmaking where shots are not short so you can hardly see what is going on, but are not lingering for too long either. This mixed with perfect editing keeps you in suspense. There is a sequence where they are crossing the border and it is one of the most intense, white-knuckled, palm-sweaty moments in the history of film–you never know what to expect, the claustrophobia of being stuck in the endless chain of cars stuck in traffic is creeping into you. In addition, we are treated in the same way Emily Blunt’s character is: we are left in the dark for the most part and can’t really figure out who to trust.
Speaking of Blunt, she is a wild beast when it comes to acting–she can do it all. This films just proves she would be a great fit for Captain Marvel. She expresses Kate’s need to do the right thing, her determination, her confusion, her anger and ignorance in a tough shell. You immediately connect with her character and get her.
However, regardless of how great Emily Blunt is, the real star is Benicio Del Toro. He has magnetising presence without even doing anything but being in the frame. He portrays this obviously broken character fighting his own demons, pursuing his own agenda; there is no hope in his eyes anymore.
When it comes to Josh Brolin, he is as charming and charismatic as always, even in a suit, wearing flip-flops. He is the slight, almost unnoticeable comedic relief of the film. There is a hint he may not be who he seems to be but is nevertheless righteous in his own way.
“The DOD flies with private planes?” Kate asks.
“Yeah, don’t you have one?” Brolin’s Matt answers.
Jóhann Jóhannsson yet again proves he is a great composer. After last year’s Theory of Everything, he is now back with his electronic, heart-pumping score. It’s unsettling, fits perfectly into the gritty, stark world of Sicario and adds to the already great tension build-up.
Sicario doesn’t fall apart in its second half completely, but indeed it does bed down on less than expected. Macer is supposed to remain inactive and passive, turning into more of an observer more than a doer, and this almost leaves her a touch away from a fully layered, three-dimensional protagonist. By the third act, we have already been set up for the grandiose finale, which, although unexpected, is underwhelming as the movie straightens and becomes somewhat predictable.
Villeneuve spent most of the runtime, filling the viewers with dread, though in the end you are unsure of what to dread. The realistic feel to it, the ambiguity and the exploration of gray matters are what make the film entrancing and beguiling. The biggest distinctive feature of the film is the bitter ambivalence toward what Kate witnesses. There is nothing exceptionally new that Sicario explores in terms of story and themes or tries to convey. However, with Roger Deakins’s breath-taking cinematography, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s powerful score, Denis Villeneuve’s great direction and solid performances, the film is one of the diamond jewels in the crown.