Denis Villeneuve has very much confirmed himself as one of the most interesting and captivating directors on the scene. After a string of highly accomplished works produced out of Quebec, the French-Canadian director came onto the Hollywood scene with the beautifully bleak Prisoners, a film which introduced a larger audience to his brand of emotionally charged thrillers. Then came Enemy, a true definition of a mind-fuck, positioning Villeneuve as a director capable of the unpredictable and the unsettling. Here with Sicario, he has come to a culmination of his talents, a film that feels oh so very real, and incredibly unpredictable as we traverse down a blood-soaked Rabbit hole with Emily Blunt on the front line of the Drug War on the US/Mexican border.
Blunt plays Kate Macer, a by-the-book FBI Agent whom, after discovering a house full of corpses and losing two men to an ID, is recruited to join a Delta Task Force led by Department of Justice Advisor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who are going after the man, and gang lord, responsible. Also on board this team of carefully selected operatives is the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) a man whom seemingly has his own agenda, yet one who also warms to Kate in a very paternal fashion. As Kate gets deeper and deeper into morally murky waters, she soon finds herself at odds with her own idealistic views and the means in which her team operates in bringing these Drug Lords to justice.
Villeneuve operates much in the same way as David Fincher, taking rather dark and morally complex situations and thrusting the audience in, no matter how uncomfortable or gruesome the results may be. Also, much like Fincher, Villeneuve is aware of the potent power of the unseen. Much of the atrocities and violence committed in the film is kept off-screen, with the aftermath being clearly displayed. It is an old trick, but none the less affecting, as it allows the imagination to run wild, and perhaps forcing darker suggestion to the forefront of ones mind. Sicario employs this at many occasions, and particularly when associating itself with the perspective of Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro, a truly mesmerising character of both mystery and sympathy, made all the more interesting through the tired eyes of del Toro.
Sicario features many set-pieces which engage the senses on a very visceral level, helped in no small way by Roger Deakin’s cinematography, yet another example of awards-worthy work from the masterful lenser. Having worked together on Prisoners, as well as attached to the Blade Runner sequel, Villeneuve and Deakins have struck up a very fascinating partnership, with Sicario standing as a masterpiece of visual story-telling. The overall proceedings look as if they have been bleached in the Mexican sun, while the final act which sees the team head down a secret tunnel to root out a cartel, employs a wide variation of different means of shooting the event, creating a palpable sense of tension, so taut that you may indeed forget to breathe for the majority of the final act.
Sicario represents American film-making at its most mature and most assured. It explores murky depths, without sacrificing hope, as Emily Blunt’s Kate stays strong in the face of questionable procedures and violence. Blunt is a strong focus point, with many of our readings of the other characters very much reflecting her judgements. The cast is pretty faultless, with Josh Brolin on brilliantly smug form as the ultra-macho operative in charge, who lets del Toro’s Alejandro off the leash should the situation call for it. Benicio is most definitely the strongest link here, putting in a quietly menacing performance, whilst also being reservedly charismatic, marking Alejandro as an incredibly complicated and captivating.
Come Awards Season this year, Sicario should be ever present across numerous categories, with hopefully this being the year that Deakins wins his long awaited Oscar, and one can hope Villeneuve will have a presence in the directing category. The film truly is that strong, very masterful without being particularly showy. It is unreserved, very taut film-making, a master-class of a thriller that others will surely hold in high regard for years to come. At a point in the year when blockbuster fatigue is surely setting in, Sicario represents a different kind of thrill, one that is both visceral and intellectual and packs a hell of a punch. It’d be a crime to miss it.
5/5- Easily one of the best of the year, Sicario is an intelligent, morally murky, and visceral thriller; a masterful piece of film-making.