written by Taylor Sheridan
directed by Denis Villeneuve
Rating: 3 / 4 – Good
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.
Sicario has plenty of these visceral moments, elevating what’s essentially a revenge drama into higher art. Of course it’s not only that. Just like he did with his earlier films Prisoners (2013) and Enemy (2013), 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 fantastic performances from Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin as shady government men. Their characters ooze menace. And as an upright FBI operative trying to make sense of the unwinnable War on Drugs, Emily Blunt captures the frustration and confusion of an idealistic woman completely out of her element. By film’s end she’s broken down, beaten by a system she can only learn to accept. Sounds like life.
Yet for all its supposed interest in gray areas, Sicario has its share of standard Hollywood action fare: Explosions, shootouts, torture. The climax in particular stretches credulity as one of the leads kidnaps another character just so he can get from point A to point B to point C. But then again, when the ride is as slick as this one, who cares?
Carlos I. Cuevas