Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Boasting some stunning visuals, sporadic bouts of violence and at times unbearable tension. The hugely impressive Sicario from Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) is a hard hitting thriller of a film that delves into the morality of the proxy wars being waged by US intelligence agencies against drug cartels in Mexico and the human effects on both sides of the border.
It begins with a bang, literally, following Kate Macy (Emily Blunt) and her team of FBI agents as they storm quite the little house of horrors in a vain attempt to rescue hostages. After crashing their armoured vehicle through the house, they quickly go about their business clearing each room within. During this process Kate narrowly avoids a shotgun blast of the sort that would send Jules Winnfield running into retirement and the resulting crater in the wall unveils a ghastly discovery. It turns out the entire house has dozens of decomposing corpses behind the walls, with a Mexican cartel the likely perpetrators. The brutality doesn’t end there either as a bomb explodes in one of the outbuildings, sending limbs flying and killing several agents.
In the aftermath, a clearly shell shocked Kate is called into the office and it’s at this point we’re first introduced to Matt (Josh Brolin); a supposed DoD consultant who’s spearheading a task force that’ll bring the perpetrators of the earlier events to justice. The true extent of his position is rather comically played down by his casual outfit choice of a t-shirt, slacks and a pair of sandals. Kate’s escapades as the leader of the aforementioned special FBI unit, that’s been involved in many raids with a flawless record, have caught the eye of her superiors and she is effectively forced to volunteer for this task force.
She travels with Matt and the quietly contemplative, not to mention rather dapper looking, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro); a Colombian ‘advisor’ to the group, as they fly to El Paso. Upon arriving, the first of what’ll be many lies are revealed, as it turns out the trip is going to involve a quick jaunt over the Mexican border to kidnap a member of the cartel. The aim of this operation being to draw more high ranking members out from hiding. An anxious journey following a heavily armoured convoy of jeeps, escorted by machine gun wielding, Mexican police officers helps to highlights the dangerous nature of the operation. Everything appears to go swimmingly, though Alejandro forebodingly tells Kate that trouble will be waiting at the border if anywhere. And he was right too. Stuck in a traffic jam, barely over the border, there’s another moment of anxiousness as the passengers put their peripheral vision to good use, quickly picking out two cars either side of the convoy. With anxiety levels reaching fever pitch, it doesn’t take long for the team to quickly react and deal with the situation before it even developed.
You can’t help but feel sorry for Kate during and after this point as she’s plunged deeper into a world she’s clearly not comfortable being part of. Serving as a proxy for the viewer in many ways, she is kept in the dark by Matt and Alejandro, and struggles to accept the clearly illegal actions being taken by the task force. The latter seeing no issue in torturing the cartel member stolen across the border or the bent cop that almost chokes Kate to death for a potential lead. The lengths they’ll go to are further highlighted when the film visits a large hanger of sorts full with illegal immigrants, that are interrogated for any information available. Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya); the African American ex-partner of Kate is treated with even more contempt by Matt, who either can’t or refuses to even remember his name. Following these interrogations, Alejandro manages to discover the whereabouts of a secret tunnel that runs under the border and so we are led into the finale
With the tension ratcheted up rather effectively, thanks to the use of night vision visuals, we see a beautiful yet ominous sunset framing the task force’s descent underground as the final operation begins. An intense firefight takes place with cartel members in the claustrophobic surrounds of the tunnel network. Kate manages to track the movements of Alejandro whilst bullets ricochet all over the place and with her conscience gnawing away at her, she confronts him just as he’s about to take off with a bent Mexican police officer. Alejandro means business however and shoots her body armour without hesitation, incapacitating her and swatting the confrontation away with almost pitying disdain before speeding off. What follows is a fairly gut wrenching confrontation with the cartel leader and his family, which ends in a complete bloodbath. There’s then just time for one more encounter between Kate and Alejandro. The latter forcing the signing of an official report that exonerates him and the task force for their actions after threatening to kill Kate and cover it up as a suicide.
The ever impressive Emily Blunt delivers a polished, assured performance as Kate, effectively portraying the despairing angst felt by the character as she’s fed lies, left out of the picture, faces a tussle with the morality of the task groups actions and finds her position becoming more marginalised. Josh Brolin plays the almost annoyingly cocksure, gum chewing, Matt with an excellence that I’ve come to expect from him, but it’s Benicio Del Toro that really steals the show for me. Alejandro is somewhat of a side character for two thirds of this movie, which makes it all the more remarkable that he grows into it to the extent he does, becoming the main man in the final act. When we first see him, he looks tired, bereaved and sullen, even awaking startled from a nightmare whilst on the plane with Kate. The reason behind this small sliver of vulnerability in the otherwise menacing presence he projects is revealed later and it helps to somewhat absolve the cold, calculated actions he takes towards the films end. There was also a small, but brilliant, cameo from Jon Bernthal and I’d also like to give an honourable mention to Daniel Kaluuya too. Although his impact on the story was fairly minimal, I thought he acted well enough in each of his scenes.
The cinematography is a real positive of this film and is utterly jaw dropping, which isn’t too surprising given the genius that is Roger Deakins (Shawshank Redemption, True Grit, No Country for Old Men). It’s a real travesty that this man has not won an Oscar. The aerial shots of the barren Mexican landscape were stunning and made to look almost outer worldly at times, which only served to further highlight the dangers of the foreign landscape the task force was entering, and as I previously mentioned, the night vision was very effective in its usage. I couldn’t finish discussing the visuals of this film without once again mentioning the twilight, sunset scene, which was just incredibly beautiful.
Just a brilliant film overall and I highly recommend this to anyone that hasn’t seen it yet.