It’s been a relatively lackluster year at the movies, so when I started to hear buzz about Sicario, I figured it might be a sleeper. The trailer promised a taut political action drama featuring an accomplished cast, including Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro (Inherent Vice), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) and Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice). The film focuses on the US government’s efforts to thwart the Mexican drug cartels and their encroachment across the border. The opening sequence is a heart-stopping raid that results in tragic casualties for the FBI, and the Bureau is left reeling.
Blunt stars as Federal Agent Kate Macer, tough but rather naïve in her approach to neutralizing the cartel. She has bought into a self-righteous way of doing things, earnest but green. After she and partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya, Kick Ass 2) narrowly survive the aforementioned raid, she’s offered an opportunity to join a task force comprised of various intelligence agencies, military personnel and assorted covert types. Heading the task force is Matt Graver (Brolin), a CIA analyst liaising between the Agency and the Bureau. Alejandro Gillick (Del Toro) is attached to Graver, who introduces him to Kate as a DoD consultant. She’s immediately suspicious of him, and neither man provides much clarity about just what his function is on the team.
The task force must travel to Juarez, Mexico to extricate a witness, all the while flying under the cartel’s radar. Corpses line the streets of Juarez, swaying to and fro as a reminder of what happens if you dare cross them. Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) held me at rapt attention, as the film was peppered with one jaw-clenching scene after another. Graver and Alejandro are at the forefront of every operation, mysteriously speaking in hushed tones while furthering Macer’s suspicions. Sicario is Spanish for hitman, and from the film’s outset it was clear that Alejandro is a questionable character with shaky allegiances. Macer and her partner are in over their heads, as everyone else seems to be privy to a secret that they know nothing about. The film follows Macer as she pieces together Alejandro’s identity and her questions her own principles.
Sicario is one of the better films of 2015. Usually movies like this have a lull at the midway point, after becoming mired in plot minutiae. However, I was genuinely enthralled throughout. The pacing was superb, and while director Denis Villeneuve hasn’t surpassed the suspense of Prisoners, he has crafted a very good film. Benecio Del Toro was quietly menacing, conveying a great deal while saying very little. Blunt continues to impress me with the emotional quality she brings to her performances, as well as the impressive physicality and bravado characterized by roles like this as well as in other films like Edge of Tomorrow. This is definitely one to check out. Grade: A