Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo P. Saracino, Maximillano Hernandez, and Edgar Arreola.
Synopsis: An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
The War on Drugs is something that has been done on film before and some have been done with great success, but director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan have done something special with Sicario. The film gives an unapologetic, rare and bleak look on the subject and one of the most intense and effective thrillers I’ve seen in a while.
Sicario opens with FBI agent Kate Macer, the leader of a kidnap and response team in Arizona, who with her team that includes her partner Reggie Wayne (Kaluuya) raid a house that has dead bodies inside the walls. The raid and discovery puts her on the radar of government agent Matt Graver (Brolin), who decides to bring her in to his operation of taking down a head of one of the Mexican cartels. When she bought she also meets Alejandro (Del Toro) who, according to Matt, is a “liaison” but never tells her from or what to. As the operation goes on, Kate soon realizes that everything around her may not be as clear cut as it seems. More importantly, can she trust the people around her?
Kate acts as our surrogate into the drug war and specific situation they are trying to pull off in the film. Thankfully, Emily Blunt gives another reliable performance and makes us believe her as she is thrown into a world she doesn’t completely understand and well trying to get answers, she is pushed to the side and kept in the dark. Blunt truly is one of the best actresses in Hollywood today and being the lead in the film like this is refreshing to see. They could have easily put a man in the lead role – and they almost did, but Villeneuve and Sheridan protested – but it probably wouldn’t have worked.
However, despite Blunt’s great performance, Sicario belongs to Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro. It takes a while to finally figure his character out, but Del Toro gives us enough to be interested in him until that point. Hell, his character doesn’t say too much at the beginning of the film and even other people see him they stiffen up a little bit. Del Toro has always been on people’s radar, but it feels like recently he is getting a lot more attention, and he deserves it. Alejandro is definitely one of Benicio Del Toro’s best characters and maybe one of the best characters of the year.
The rest of the cast fare well in the roles they are given, although the film really does belong to the main actors. Josh Brolin looks to be having fun chewing up scenery as his cocky, brash and laid-back government agent that is always keeping Kate in the dark right up until the end. Daniel Kaluuya’s Reggie is loyal to Kate through-and-through and has a nice scene that breaks all the tension from the rest of the film that shows you how close the two characters are. Victor Garber pops in as Kate and Reggie’s boss, Jeffery Donovan also pops in as another government agent that Matt works with and is equally mysterious and cocky. Finally Maximiliano Hernandez, who fans will know as Agent Sitwell from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plays a Mexican police officer, Silvio serves a great purpose to the overall theme of the film than you would think.
Speaking of the theme, Sicario has a lot going on and thankfully it doesn’t get lost too much in them. I don’t really want to give any of them away, but as you can assume with the film being about going after one of the bosses in one of the cartels in Mexico, things are going to get a bit murky. Yes, Taylor Sheridan is saying something about the war on drugs, and quite honestly it could be what many think, but there is something about how Sheridan and director Denis Villeneuve are saying about it that makes the film, like I pointed out earlier, unapologetic
Finally, the last bits that make Sicario all that more effective and great is the chilling and atmospheric score by Johann Johannsson that really elevates a lot of the tension filled scenes. Seriously, Sicario is jam packed with tension from beginning to end, and some nice twists that believe me, the trailers really don’t give away. The other great thing about the film is some of the cinematography by one of the best in the business, Roger Deakins. Some of Deakins shots that are mixed with Johnnsson’s score are just so great by themselves, but mixed with the themes and what leads to them makes the film more worthwhile at the end.
All in all, Sicario is lead by great performances by Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and more importantly Benicio Del Toro. The film is unapologetic, raw, and bleak, along with being an effective tension filled thriller that I have experienced in years. Will it be for everyone? No, the film is tough and heavy to watch, but layered underneath all that, is a great film.
5 out of 5