Sunday, 27 September 2015

Film Review: Sicario

Here we go yo, here we go yo, so what's the (what's the) sicario...

Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro join the war on the drugs (the actual war, not the band) in Denis Villeneuve's sublime suspense thriller, Sicario.

After scoring a decisive drug bust in an unassuming suburban home, experienced SWAT officer Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is drafted into a highly-trained and secretive operation by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a laid-back government operative tasked with the mission of bringing down an elusive Mexican cartel boss, Manuel Diaz (Bernardo P. Saracino).

Assisted by the enigmatic Alejandro (Benecio del Toro), their joint operation is nowhere near as simple as first thought; as they dive deeper into the depths of the Mexican underbelly, moral quandaries on the nature of good vs. evil arise between Kate and Matt, revealing an ugly truth about the nature of justice both at home, and across the border.

Sicario is directed by one of my favourite directors, Denis Villeneuve. In the last two years he's delivered two outstanding films in Prisoners, and Enemy, and whilst each of these films are excellent on a technical and emotional level, I think that Sicario tops them both across the board.

First thing you need to know is that this is an uncompromisingly dark film; don't go in expecting funny quips and clear-cut moral compasses that define the goodies and baddies. Much like with Prisoners, Sicario is an examination of how far a person could (or should) go to get what they want, and whether the ends genuinely do justify the means. This central theme is shown through Blunt's character; determined but honourable, Kate is shocked to find that her new allies aren't the white knight's they made themselves out to be, and the operation soon strays out of her comfort zone.

Blunt does a really great job of bringing this moral uncertainty and confusion to the film, and her performance is possibly her best yet. To see this optimistic and spirited character torn down by those around her and the events taking place was really effective, and I think that Blunt's calibre of acting really elevated this element of the film. Plus, Blunt kicks some serious ass in this film; we've seen it before with Looper and Edge of Tomorrow, and once again it was really great to see a female character that wasn't referred to as such. She just was, and the film didn't feel the need to give a reason why.

Benicio del Toro was outstanding as well; he plays this mysterious Columbian agent who is brought into the team alongside Kate. We're never quite sure what his motives are, and del Toro's performance really sells you on that. He gets the most backstory and motivation as well; Kate is drawn as this upstanding officer trying to do the right thing, but del Toro's character has a much more compelling backstory to draw from.

Rounding out the cast are other brilliant actors like Josh Brolin and Jon Bernthal, and both of these guys are great in their roles too. That being said, the film is mainly about Kate and Alejandro, and seeing the two butt heads. Brolin plays a roguish cowboy type who doesn't care much for authority, whilst Bernthal certainly makes an impression in the small role he's afforded.

Roger Deakins' cinematography is excellent across the board, and it's the scenes which are set at night that best showcase the depth of his talent. The lightning has a very natural look and feel to it, even in the darkest of moments - some scenes are very similar to something like Zero Dark Thirty and Deakins' work shows off these moments brilliantly.

Villeneuve once again proves himself to be an expert in crafting thick impenetrable tension; when combined with Deakins' gorgeous compositions and Johan Johansson's throbbing score, Sicario is a pulse-pounding experience from start to finish. Even in the quietest and most unassuming of scenes you get the feeling of this underlying conflict that is only mere moments away from bubbling over.

From an armed escort through the cluttered streets of Juarez to an electrifying firefight on the Mexican border or a claustrophobic tunnel chase, I'm struggling to pinpoint just one scene in this film to call my favourite. They're just all so excellently crafted. The armed escort scene might just be my favorite sequence in a film so far this year, rounded off so perfectly by this towering track ('The Beast') by Johannsson. Villeneuve also uses these really gorgeous landscape shots that pan across the Mexican desert and uniform American suburbs. To me, it was very recollective of the final season of Breaking Bad, in particular that 'Crystal Blue Persuasion' scene from the episode 'Gliding Over All'. Actually, the whole film feels like a mesh of Breaking Bad and Zero Dark Thirty, and I mean that in a really good way.

The film goes for just over two hours, but it doesn't feel lengthy. In fact, when the credits began to roll, I was a little disappointed - not because the ending was bad (looking back, it's really clever and poignant) but because I could've easily sat through another 20 or 30 minutes of this film, just letting the artful direction and riveting characters wash over me.

The Verdict: 9/10


Tense, compelling and gorgeous, Sicario is a career watermark for Villeneuve, Blunt and del Toro. The material is defiantly elevated by the talent who've signed on, and the end result is a well-crafted and captivating film that'll keep you hooked from start to finish.

Sicario is in cinemas across Australia now. 

8 comments:

  1. Great review! I'm really looking forward to seeing this one soon. Emily Blunt has really impressed me over the last year :)
    - Allie

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    1. Thanks Allie! Hope you liked the movie. Blunt has really come into her own since Looper and I can't wait to see what her role in The Girl of the Train is like :)

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  2. Great review, I agree, this flick is so damn tense, but absolutely gorgeous. Easily my favorite film of 2015 so far.

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    1. That's awesome! I can't decide what my favorite has been so far - too many to choose from.

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  3. I was sweating the entire time during this one.

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    1. So tense - especially that border scene!

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