Release: 1st February 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
FBI agent Kate Macer (Blunt) is recruited by government official Matt Graver (Brolin) to join a team, led by mysterious consultant Alejandro (Del Toro), on a secret mission to bring down a drug lord in Mexico. The operation is fraught with danger and Kate finds herself forced to reconsider what she stands for as she tries to successfully complete the mission and make it out alive.
America loves drugs. It loves the good vs. bad imagery of it, the corruption and conspiracies drugs breed, and it loves to pretend everything comes down to that geographical divide between Uncle Sam’s turf and the sneaky-sneaky carnage of Mexico. Sicario kicks that long-held mythology right in its Donald Trump shaped testicles and says “this is some high-end grey area shiz;” this aint no morality war. If Oliver Stone wrote a script for Michael Mann, this is the kind of film you’d expect.
One of Sicario’s biggest sleight of hands is that it disguises itself as a conspiracy movie, when it is really a police procedural. It’s a political drama disguised as an action movie. You have your shady government agents, clandestine meetings in glass offices and desert spaces, et al. So far so clichéd, right? Wrong. Director Denis Villeneuve and writer Taylor Sheridan have a secret ingredient in their special sauce; everyone is the bad guy. We of course see this world through Emily Blunt’s eyes and she is, by and large, the goody in this scenario, but she flirts with darkness. She signs herself into a Faustian pact with Josh Brolin – and as Baltasar Gracian as once said; “Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.” Sicario starts with Blunt discovering a grizzly house of horrors, trying to beat villainy and ends…well, that’d be spoiling the surprise wouldn’t it!?
It goes without saying that Roger Deakins brings a lot to the visual signature of the movie. There are moments within the film that even the most ardent procures of philistinism will have trouble ignoring; it really is a film the sizzles. Director Denis Villeneuve has previously brought us the likes of Prisoners, and he is clearly at home with telling stories like narrative chess. Sicario revels in its stonewalling antics, but Villeneuve drip feeds us visual clues here and there to build the tension. In fact, prepare to digest your bodyweight in fingernails.
Sicario isn’t a perfect film, though. There is a distracting side story about a cop set in Juarez, that really comes to very little, and the heavy overtones in the closing moments feel like a cut and paste from Paul Haggis’ Crash. You could even argue that, at times, Sicario suffers from some sloppy pacing. But that would be really nitpicking, and would make you a total asshole.
The three-way lead of Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro is a fruitful one. The one-two of ask no questions (Del Toro) and tell no lies (Brolin) is a treasure trove of frustration for Blunt to buck against; and we really feel that too. Del Toro threatens to steal the show time and time again, but Blunt never quite gives up the reigns and owns every scene she is in. This could easily have become Clarice Starling 2.0, but there is a lot more to her portrayal of Kate Macer than meets the eye. In a year filled with some iconic female characters, her’s is a worthy addition to the list.
Film Grade: A-
Sicario comes with four very short yet informative features, the most haunting of which being Battle Zone: The Origins of Sicario. This look at the real Juarez has the potential to be a feature-length documentary in its own right. But with a mere 13 minutes of footage the surface is hardly scratched, yet somehow it hammers home just how important Sicario is in bringing attention to such a harrowing situation.
Stepping Into Darkness: The Visual Design of Sicario and A Pulse from the Desert: The Score of Sicario are mere teasers in the grand scope of behind-the-scenes footage, but they are great. Stepping into Darkness offers a glance at some integral scenes from the film, and digs in to inner sanctums of Deakins and Villeneuve for some nuggets of thought. While Pulse from the Desert proves just how amazing Johann Johannsson’s score really is. But it would have been nice to get some inside looks at Johannsson’s working process.
And to top it off there is Blunt, Brolin and Benicio: Portraying the Characters of Sicario. A pretty self-explanatory feature, but well worth a watch.
Special Features Grade: B-
Sicario is the sort of film that makes you wish Hollywood was this brave all the time. Not because it tackles difficult subject matter, or even because it puts brains over brawn. But because it feels like a movie made with only the filmmaker’s interests at heart. Sicario doesn’t pander, it says “here we go. Try and keep up.”