– by David Morgan-Brown
For those seeking out a film that hands out doses of terrifically staged and utterly thrilling action sequences, all the while housed in an intelligent and politically conscious story, you wouldn’t want to pass on Sicario. For most of the film’s two hour run-time, it focuses more on the story than anything else, taking the audience straight into a taut home invasion scene that instigates the rest of the film. Sicario switches between talky moments of the task forces establishing their method of attack (as well as their divulging of the truth and non-truths) and moments of atmospheric sequences amping up the tension, mistrust, and paranoia inherent in this extremely hostile situation. Sicario uses plenty of impressively filmed overhead establishing shots to take the audience from the well mannered areas of Juarez to the war-zones in the drug-laden areas.
However, thanks to such superb acting and a clever and tight screenplay, the film eschews characterisations as the plot is on the go. Emily Blunt really shines as FBI field agent Kate, showing us an almost equal amount of strength and vulnerability that make her a cooperative member to take down this drug squad, yet someone who is growingly critical about the methods these task forces go about it. Even a moment half-way through the film when the characters seem to relax and take their minds off the mission at hand, it comes back to the key drug-dealer in a big, dramatic, and tense way.
Defense Department contractor Matt (Josh Brolin) seems rather shabby to be in the important position he’s in (as Kate visually notices at first about him) and he’s rather cheery throughout most of his screen-time, perhaps he even revels in the harsh actions of his job. This is in contrast to lawyer/hitman Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) who immediately shows to Kate and the audience how twitchy and internally disturbed he is by the field he’s working in (as opposed to how calm Matt is), without a doubt there is some troubling past of his waiting to be revealed.
This is an occasionally disturbing, yet welcome crime-thriller that takes it subject matter rather seriously with a range of great acting. Its director, Denis Villeneuve, has made plenty of good films, yet none are quite great, and it’s the same case here. It’s hard to fault Sicario because of how good it is, but there’s the nagging feeling the overall story could be more engaging, with the scope of the effects these drug rings have in the neighbourhood could’ve been more prominent. The little story with policeman Silvio (Maximiliano Hernández) isn’t fleshed out enough, doesn’t give enough of a native perspective in this event, and seems only included in the film to establish an otherwise benign character as a family-man.
Sicario just misses out on being something of a modern masterpiece of its genre, but it’s still a tough, procedural thriller with more than a few well-handled intense sequences and is well worth seeing in the cinemas because of how great the sound and cinematography are that lure the audience into this seedy underworld. Importantly, Sicario is not a film that holds back in its shocking depiction of the senseless murders (and even the abhorrent treatment of the corpses) that occur in these scenarios — this is a tough and uncompromising film, but is watchable, engaging, and is likely one of the more sweat-inducingly intense films of this year.