Release Date: September 25, 2015
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Studio: Black Label Media, Thunder Road Pictures
Genre(s): Crime, Thriller
Review Spoilers: Low
Sicario does an impressive job of many things. Among those things is not only the superb job done by its leading actress Emily Blunt, or the gripping story about an FBI agent pulled into a battle against drugs and justice, but also of being a intense, heart pounding, white knuckled film that keeps you on the edge of your set every second of the two hours it spans.
Blunt’s character Kate Macer plays an FBI agent who becomes a part of a drug task force whose sole purpose is to track down and eliminate the head of one Mexico’s dangerous drug cartels. What the movie lacks in finesse in approaching a topic like drug crimes along the southwest border of the United States and Mexico’s border towns, it makes up for in action. Here, there are few high octane, million dollar special effects shots. Instead, Sicario relies on the slow and unnerving build of action that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Notably is an interesting deviation from a typical car chase sequence in which Kate and the task force are given the mission to retrieve a prisoner from a prison in a town gripped by the cartel in a nasty way. In a scene nearly bereft of dialogue, accompanied only by atmospheric music scored by Johan Johannsson, we speed through the border and into Juarez, Mexico to detain the prisoner only to hit traffic on the border coming back. In a scene taut with anxiety, Kate gets her first taste of the task force’s brutality matched up against the cartel.
Blunt is no stranger to this genre, having starred in last year’s Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise, but she reaches a peak with Sicario. Kate defies many of the typical stereotypes built up by the “tough badass female”. With the news and rumors surrounding the film of how some asked for her role to replaced by a male star, it’s hard to imagine the impact of Sicario hitting as close to home without Blunt at the helm.
The tension of putting her out of her element and forcing her to acclimate to the task force with Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) not to mention a good handful of black ops men twists her role as an outsider in an overt and covert way. She sticks out like a sore thumb physically, but that’s not where it stops. Kate stands out in her inability to sway in justice. As the film progresses, it becomes clear to her that this is much more than a simple job and it requires not just the bending of rules, but often times the breaking of them. Her position on the side of justice and the law makes her even more of an outsider among Alejandro and Matt, who are disillusioned and have become as much villains as the ones they chase.
The film does no favors and ends without mercy. It leaves you with a version of the truth that forces you to deal with the consequences of Kate’s actions and the task force’s actions. The dark twist of violence and cynicism that dictates over so much of this particular genre is beautifully contrasted in Sicario by the painted sunsets of Arizona. Being native of Arizona (and having grown up half an hour away from Chandler, where the film begins), it was particularly striking to see the grim violence played against kaleidoscopic sunsets.
Final Thoughts: Sicario offers nothing completely new within the genre of drug warfare films and television shows that seem to be rising in popularity, but it is still a heart racing ride brilliantly casted and lead by its leading actress and brings a fresh take on a familiar story.