Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
By Kris Scott
Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro): You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.
After being attracted to Villeneuve’s work through Prisoners (2013) I pushed myself to watch anything really by this director, he seems to have a thing for grabbing you by the throat and making your heart stop due to the nerve-wrecking tension.
We follow Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she leads a tactical team to storm a house in Arizona which ends up blowing up, literally. She is our by the book moral compass as she becomes continually torn in by the shoot first ask questions later type of justice. Blunt is great in the role but as much as she is our ‘go-to’ character in the story, it is Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) who is the spanner in the works. His interesting role outshines Blunt’s in spades.
Villeneuve’s superb foreshadowing is masterclass. At one early point he says to Kate: “Nothing will make sense to your American ears. You will doubt what we do. But, in the end, it will make sense.” As much as these slightly condescending words are meant for Kate, they are also meant for us as the audience.
There’s a scene where they extract a fugitive over the bridge of the Americas and they get caught in a traffic jam. While they come to a halt each one of the operatives are vigilant they spot a few guys with guns, it’s not until the so called bad guys exit their vehicles the operatives aren’t far behind with their guns ready. Here the tension hits again, for a short action filler to follow after Alejandro is threatened with a gun they take out the first car, shoot a corrupt cop and take out the guys in another car.
There’s an element of Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark Thirty, as Kate struggles to navigate and survive a tough, macho world, while remaining true to herself. Blunt does good work, never playing down Kate’s vulnerability and disorientation and Villeneuve initiates us into this cruel world through her eyes. One fine sequence has Kate’s longing for intimacy and simply getting laid only get her into more trouble, and Blunt bravely nails the anguish of realizing how her femininity is just another lever to be exploited. That said, imagining her getting similar awards attention to Chastain is tough.
A solid cast helps the over-familiar medicine go down smoothly at least. Brolin’s gum-chewing, carefree boss is entertaining if sketchy; and there’s a nice supporting turn from young British actor Daniel Kaluuya as Kate’s tough-talking but supportive FBI partner. What’s most welcome is the return to form of Benicio Del Toro. Alejandro is gradually revealed as the “Sicario” himself (Mexican slang for “hitman”), and Del Toro uses his natural heft well. He plays the troubled Alejandro with a stillness and quiet authority that at times projects genuine compassion, and then, when he needs to cut loose, an intimidating righteous rage.
Teaming again with genius British cinematographer Roger Deakins (who shot Villeneuve’s Prisoners), the widescreen framing and use of light and shade to emphasize the shifting moral landscape is powerful. There’s also good use of diverse visual formats, from surveillance cameras to sickly green night vision and hyper-real thermal vision, a patchwork of alienating tools that allows hunters to effectively dehumanize their quarry. And Jóhann Jóhannsson’s tedious Hans Zimmer-esque score takes every opportunity to pump up the threatening ambience.
Yet, for all its accomplished filmmaking and effective performances, there’s something about Sicario. It’s often brutal and may just hit on par the Heat-like intensity it’s striving for in its action set. There’s a sense of self-importance about not just Graver’s mission, but the whole world’s-gone-to-hell opinion, But Sicario is decent enough, and occasionally better.
Many fans of crime thrillers will likely enjoy the film by Denis Villeneuve’s, especially due to Roger Deakins’s imagery and Blunt and Del Toro’s performances. But ultimately this is a bad-cop-worse-criminal fare.
Kris Scott’s AnyThink Rating- 4.5 Stars out of 5