written by Taylor Sheridan
directed by Denis Villeneuve
Rating: 3 / 4
There’s a sequence early on in Sicario where a team of FBI and Department of Defense agents go into Juarez, Mexico to extract a drug cartel boss for questioning. As their convoy makes their way back to Texas, it becomes evident they’re being followed. Then the SUV’s get stuck in traffic… and director Denis Villeneuve ratchets up the tension to the point where I was actually squirming in my seat, waiting anxiously for the impending outburst of violence. It’s a masterful scene, a veritable punch in the gut.
Just like he did with his earlier films Prisoners (2013) and Enemy (2013), director Villeneuve is interested in ambiguity. He relies on Roger Deakins’ moody cinematography – all desert yellows and bird’s-eye views – and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s unnerving score to create a morally ambivalent, nerve-racking experience. It works wonders, aided by superb performances from Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin as shady government men. They ooze menace. Less successful is Emily Blunt, saddled with an underwritten role as an upright FBI operative trying to make sense of the unwinnable War on Drugs; writer Taylor Sheridan makes her a cipher, never quite knowing what’s happening and making dumb choices along the way.
Towards the end, Sicario becomes a more standard crime thriller/revenge drama. The climax in particular stretches credibility as del Toro’s purpose becomes clear and he infiltrates a drug lord’s compound. But then again, when the ride is as slick as this one, who cares?
Carlos I. Cuevas