Though I may not understand Spanish, Sicario is a film that can speak for itself. Translating to ‘hitman’, Denis Villeneuve’s latest thriller is a masterfully crafted examination of America’s War on Drugs that, as the title suggests, never misses its target from beginning to end.
Following the aftermath of a kidnapping raid gone wrong, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is assigned to aid the Department of Defense in tracking down the drug lord responsible across the Mexican border. However not all is as it seems, as Macer slowly begins to question the unorthodox methods of her CIA team leader Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), and the recruitment of the illusive Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro), whose murky past might be key to unravelling the mystery surrounding the cartel they pursue.
Much like the bomb that sets the film’s events in motion, Sicario is a series of unexpected action setpieces that’ll blow you away with little remorse, leaving you no time to recollect your thoughts as you’re dragged head on into one of the most realistic depictions of modern warfare in recent cinema history.
Your eyes are constantly transfixed by the screen, with each scene building a uniquely unprecedented form of tension – occasionally it’s the haunting lack of music, sometimes it’s the actors’ incredibly nuanced performances, and other times it’s the heart-pounding chase sequences, the most notable being an outstanding shoot-out taking place in a traffic jam that’ll undoubtedly make you turn around next time you hit rush hour. More frighteningly, the film follows no ethical code, with our supposed ‘heroes’ of the front line using waterboarding amongst other lethal tactics against the enemy to progress the plot, all the while being contrasted to the humble everyday lives of the criminal underlings they’re out to capture.
“Sicario is a series of unexpected action setpieces that’ll blow you away with little remorse”
It’s this never-ending aura of moral ambiguity that surrounds the entirety of Sicario, whereby both Macer and the audience are left in the dark for the majority of it’s running time. Although this can lead to pacing issues, Villeneuve (who’s no stranger to examining the grey areas of human decency in the likes of Prisoners and last year’s Enemy) expertly weaves a tale of deceit that never leaves you bored.
If anything, you’ll be craving to see more after the film’s brutally honest (and equally petrifying) final act, in which Del Toro secures his place as a deadlock for the awards season come New Year; his character perfectly encompassing the sympathetic yet terrifying portrayal of this dog-eat-dog world as a man with nothing left to lose but a handful of bullets.
Almost topping his performance is the work of 12-time Oscar-nominee Roger Deakins, who may finally earn that golden statue for the film’s breathtaking cinematography, depicting the vast Mexican landscape as an unforgiving wasteland of dashed dreams and theatrical gang warfare.
With a spectacular cast and meticulous direction, Sicario is as thought provoking as it is beautifully barbarous; a contemporary war thriller that is neither right or wrong – rather, it’s outstanding.
More like this: Traffic (2000)