The drug war is brutal, and there isn’t an answer. That is the message director Denis Villeneuve and writer Taylor Sheridan are trying to across in Sicario and it is told through the eyes of an experienced FBI task force agent, Kate Macer. Macer has been tracking down a heavy Cartel player stateside, but when a mysterious “spook” task force recruits her for their team she can’t say no to the promise of actual change. What Macer gets into though quickly becomes more than she might be able to handle.
Macer might be the entryway to this story, but the film is very much a three person show between her, the spook leader Matt Graver and a mysterious consultant Alejandro. The dynamic between the three of them is what sells the movie, and the acting behind those roles are all stellar. Emily Blunt plays Macer, and while Macer is kind of helpless in a world that is bigger than her it isn’t played in a women are weak way. Blunt does a great job of being the audience surrogate, learning the ways of this secret drug war as if she was walking through the darkness with a candle. Every time she finds out something new, she wishes she hadn’t. Macer’s arc is a clear descent to a frame of mind she might not ever come back from and Blunt does a wonderful job of showing that even if she is always reacting instead of leading the way.
Graver is played by Josh Brolin, who plays the part with a sense of cockiness and glee that was hard not to get wrapped up in. That sly smile comes out when he is in the middle of some bad stuff and you can’t help but like his twisted sense of humor. Brolin exudes an unlimited level of confidence and badassness here, as he continues to be one of my favorite actors to watch right now. Alejandro is played with a sense of “don’t F with this guy” mystery by Benicio Del Toro and his performance only gets better as he slowly becomes more and more integral to the story. Del Toro gets the best moments in the film and I haven’t enjoyed him this much in a movie in some time. Del Toro is always good, but he is in peak form in Sicario.
I’ve enjoyed Villeneuve’s last three films quote a bit, and Sicario is no different. Working, again, with Roger Deakins, the film is absolutely gorgeous. The images are often brutal, but every frame is shot beautifully. In particular, a scene shot in heat/night vision somehow works 100%. The sunset shots right before that sequence also mesmerized.
Any complaints I have with the film are fairly minor. A couple reveals seemed to be expected to hit with a bit more punch, but I mostly saw every move coming. Sicario also keeps you in the dark maybe a bit too much for the lack of any real twist ending or anything. I get putting us in Macer’s shoes, but I can’t really see a reason for leaving us in the dark on so much for so long. Macer’s partner, Reggie Wayne (no not that Reggie Wayne), also seemed rather redundant to the film, everything we get from him we already got with Macer. Other than being the other side of the argument to Graver I didn’t see why we needed him there. Minor complaints, as I said, but I never really struggled with this one.
Sicario is one of the better films I have seen this year and cements Villeneuve as one of the best working directors right now. The cast is great and the film never lets you go, even without much of a plot to speak of. It’s all atmosphere and mood and Villeneuve and Deakins deliver on that front. Also, the penultimate scene has a moment that had me saying to myself, “If you do what I think you are about to do, I will really respect this movie even more.” Don’t miss Sicario.