Sicario – Film Review By Shane Larkin
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Roughly midway through Denis Villeneuve’s searing new thriller, Emily Blunt’s out-of-her-depth-and-scared-shitless FBI Agent stands on a rooftop, watching Juarez by twilight across the border. An explosion in the distance, a fireworks display of bullets and mortar fire against the darkened sky. A SWAT officer accompanies her. They smoke. He informs her: “This is what happens when you cut the head off a chicken”. Sicario may offer up muscular, chaotic, nail-biting setpieces on a consistent basis, but this is a politically charged think piece with quite a bit to say for itself, even if its lofty reach occasionally exceeds its grasp.
After raiding a nightmarish drug den in Phoenix packed tight with decaying corpses within the walls, Kate Macer (Blunt) is enlisted by a team of government officials and joins a joint task force assigned with taking down a Mexican drug cartel. Chief among these are Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), full of vague answers and an upbeat attitude, casually dressed but clearly in charge; and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), soft-spoken and menacing, affiliations and motivations not entirely clear. The plan, ostensibly, is to “shake the tree”, piss off the right people and play the cartel leaders against each other.
Ultimately, this war is an unwinnable dance of death, pushing far beyond comfortable boundaries of good and evil, right and wrong. And by submerging itself in this thoroughly grey area, Sicario becomes a compelling exploration of a world of suffering and indifference, characters struggling to come to terms with this grim reality and the lengths some will go to to gain control over a seemingly uncontrollable force.
Emily Blunt impresses as Kate, injecting pathos and dimension to a character that may have otherwise felt one note. She serves as something of an audience surrogate for most of the movie and this is an effective approach, asking why and how at every turn and constantly reevaluating her understanding of the situation, along with the rest of us. Brolin provides most of what little comic relief there is to be found amidst the dread and darkness as Matt, at once affable and resolute, and Del Toro’s frighteningly intense Alejandro is one of his more memorable roles of late.
But the real star here is legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, which is hardly surprising at this point. A claustrophobic tunnel raid in night vision, the shadow of a jet gliding silently across the Chihuahuan desert like a vulture stalking its prey, decapitated corpses hanging from a motorway in broad daylight. Nauseous fluorescent rooms, harsh sunlight, dust and shadow. His evocative framing lends the brutal imagery an almost mythic quality. The look is beautifully alien at times.
The screenplay may be a little too on-the-nose with its metaphors and it may not plumb the depths of its subjects as deeply as we might like, but Villeneuve, together with Deakins et al, mine it for all it’s worth, and squeeze every last drop of thematic resonance they can out of it. This is the best thriller of the year, and an angry, gorgeous, perfectly scored examination of an insurmountable clusterfuck and the existential horror it breeds.
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Excellent review of a terrific film. Nicely done.