Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Written by Taylor Sheridan, directed by Denis Villeneuve
IMDB Rating: 7.7
Highly anticipated, highly regarded at 2015 festivals, but just pushed out of the 2016 awards party. Probably the most upper-class war/crime film I’ve ever seen, but at the same time one of the best…
Kate Macer (Blunt) is an idealistic, play-by-the-book style FBI agent trying to fight in the war against drugs, but working in Pheonix means she’s spending most of her time cleaning up the mess the drug cartels are leaving behind. After a particuarly greusome discovery in a known drug den that ends up killing some of her team, she is called up to work in a special ops team led by laid-back CIA agent Matt Graver (Brolin). Graver leads a team which includes mysterious latino Alejandro (Del Toro) on a not-exactly-legal mission into Mexico, in an attempt to ‘cut the head off the chicken’ by targeting the top players in the Mexico drug trade. Graver and Alejandro’s less than perfect methods make the uptight Kate question everything that’s happening around her.
This film has a great balance. On one side if the war on drugs, the violence told in a graphic, almost no holds barred style that adds a sense of danger. This is measured with what emerges as a psychological thriller, a beliefs are tested and alterior motives are revealed. Sicario is quite a dark film, and that comes from the psychological edge created between distrusting characters. However this is beautifully balanced with a gritty war story that will suck you out of the narrative for a moment.
Sicario also has a great tempo throughout, which I think is down to both the writer and director. This tempo is fairly slow, especially if you compared it to most action-based war/crime movies, but it suits Sicario just right. It never finds itself rushing to a conclusion or overstating a moment, the beginning middle and end all flowing in a way that I have rarely seen! Also, while keeping its tempo it is able to create strong tension – thanks a lot to a very clever, very earthy score – while taking time to develop characters. I haven’t really ever talked about a film’s tempo before, because only when it is as controlled as in Sicario do you notice how it can make such an impact.
The acting in this film really is first class. Emily Blunt does a really good job throughout, keeping an important sense of vulnerability throughout despite being surrounded by bigger characters, but what caught my eye the most was how she allowed Kate to gradually and naturally evolve as the film progressed. The last scene was particularly impressive, where she comes across as both war-hardened and broken, and that was a feeling you felt building since the first piece of action. Del Toro was also very good, keeping a dark and distrustful tone throughout. While Brolin’s character wasn’t as serious as the other’s he still did a good job as the key man to sell the idea that what they’re doing isn’t exactly ‘to the book’ like Kate likes. The whole cast appeared to bounce off of each other really nicely too, creating a very deep story.
The directing by Denis Villeneuve also stands up with the calibre of this piece. He uses a lot of landscape shots, but mirrors that with really tense images to create a picture that is both beautiful and gritty at the same time. As mentioned earlier, Villeneuve does a good job using moving camera shots to dictate the tempo that flows throughout, showing an ability to not just slowly build a moment but to also build tension – there’s a scene early on where Kate’s eyes (and Villenueve’s camera) are locked on a Mexican police car that is running parallel to them but once it goes behind a building it doesn’t return. It is little things like this that make Sicario’s tense moments, and that particular moment was led by Denis himself.
Overall, while not the most exciting or tense film I’ve ever seen, the way these two ideals are balanced leads to this becoming a very sophisticated crime/war film, and a really enjoyable watch! I want to say that this is one of the best modern war films I’ve seen in recent years, but then again I don’t remember any of the others so that might not be true (I haven’t seen American Sniper). However flimsy that statement by myself is, it does explain the calibre of film this is.
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