Film Review #2: Sicario (★★★½)

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sicario_ver8There’s an almost indescribable tension coursing through the veins of Sicario from start to finish. Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve continues to prove that he’s one of the better up and coming directors out there with this action drama/thriller, which is gripping from start to finish. Villeneuve manages to craft something just as bleak and dark as Prisoners, though this one might be slightly more mainstream, considering the subject matter is slightly less upsetting. Villeneuve is again working with cinematographer Roger Deakins, who turns in some of his most exciting visuals ever, utilizing modern technology in a number of interesting ways. Armed with a trio of strong performances from Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro, this is a film that challenges in all the right ways. Sicario is the sort of movie that will need work of mouth in order to be a hit, but the potential is there. Oscar attention might be iffy, but it’s deserving of honors in certain categories. The flick always has you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next sudden burst of violence to remind you of the danger inherent in the material. This is one of the better films of the year so far and actually is currently in my Top Ten for 2015 right now. Give Sicario a look if you can handle the intensity…it’s something special. Just keep in mind my warning, as this really isn’t for the faint of heart.

The film opens by introducing us to idealistic young FBI agent Kate Macer (Blunt) on a raid of a home in Arizona. A gruesome discovery that Kate and her team, including partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) make gets the attention of higher ups. Their boss Jennings (Victor Garber) brings Kate to a meeting with Matt (Brolin), an advisor on a government task force meant to stop the Mexican drug cartels operating on the border. Kate isn’t quite sure if Matt is honestly a Department of Defense advisor, and is even less sure of the allegiances of advisor Alejandro (Del Toro), but eager to make a difference, she volunteers. Soon, she’s crossing the border and seeing the escalation that’s going on from both sides of this war. The more she sees, the less she likes it, but by then she’s pot committed and determined to find out just what is going on. The first half sets all of this up, while the second half depicts Kate’s discovery of just where the rabbit hole goes. I won’t spoil what happens, but there’s a minor twist that really changes your perspective on a number of things. Sicario is a thinking man’s action thriller, that much I’ll offer up.

c5ba6577_S_D040_10409.xxxlarge_2xEmily Blunt is the star of this movie, but for me, Benicio Del Toro is the one who was best in show. Blunt is at times a passive observer, offering up her dislike of certain events and operating as an audience proxy, but it’s perhaps not the juicy role you’re expecting. She’s very good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the sort of part that will likely result in a Best Actress nomination. Del Toro, on the other hand, has what is basically a tailor made Best Supporting Actor role. He begins as a shadier character, having bits of his past revealed in conversations by other characters. Then, a third act sequence puts him front and center and his history is fleshed out. Del Toro is excellent here, getting you to always question what he’s thinking. It’s not flashy, but it works in a big way. Josh Brolin is tasked with moving things along and uniting characters, and while he’s very solid at it, this doesn’t offer him a whole lot to do. He’s involved in a lot, but nothing revolves around him. It’s good work from Brolin, but nothing to go too crazy over. In addition to the aforementioned Victor Garber and Daniel Kaluuya, who are solid in small parts (especially Kaluuya), the supporting cast includes Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Maximiliano Hernández, and more. The trio of Blunt, Brolin, and Del Toro are all worthy of some praise, but only Del Toro really goes above and beyond.

Director Denis Villeneuve takes a sharp script by Taylor Sheridan and elevates it from solid genre fare to something special due to his behind the camera talents. Obviously, having the legendary Deakins as your DP is a big benefit, as is having a score from the immensely talented Jóhann Jóhannsson. Deakins is really the star of Sicario, if you ask me, doing work as sharp as ever. This is also his most high tech cinematography to date, utilizing CGI, night vision, thermal imaging, and more. It’s just stunning. Villeneuve keeps the pace tight and leaves you wanting more, which is exactly what you’d like in a film of this sort. There’s a commitment to bleakness here that’s admirable, if not exactly a boon to its Academy Award hopes.

Overall, Sicario is a tense and engaging dramatic thriller that really never lets up. Voters might struggle with how dark it all is, but Deakins seems like he’s got another shot in Best Cinematography at least, so there’s that. Everything else will depend on the precursors and if this movie is a success at the box office, but we don’t need to be concerned about all that right now. Mostly, just be pleased that Villeneuve has another great flick in him and be excited for what he might bring us next. If you want something intense in your life, and especially if you were a fan of Prisoners, then Sicario is right up your alley.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!

  • Joey Magidson

    Now that it’s in wide release, be sure to check this challenging flick out.

  • Virginia Apple

    For the most part, I thought this was just okay. Everything was solid, and it was a good watch, but I can’t say it blew me away.

    I will say, I agree about the score and especially the cinematography. Especially loved the use of night vision and other technology, as you mentioned.

    • Joey Magidson

      Fair enough. The cinematography is what’s most likely to get recognized as well.