Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal . Genre: Crime thriller. Running time: 121 minutes. Certificate: UK (15), USA (R)
After this year’s despicably dire Hitman: Agent 47 (which you can read my review for here), the thought of watching another film with the word ‘hitman’ in its title made me sick to my stomach. Fortunately enough ‘sicario’ is just the Spanish translation of the word and has absolutely nothing to do with the awful movies based of the videogame character.
Sicario stars Emily Blunt (Edge of Tommorrow) as FBI kidnap response agent Kate Macer. The film begins with Kate seemingly on a routine raid on a Mexican drug cartel safe house in the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona. The bust takes a horrific turn for the worst as there’s a gruesome discovery and an unexpected disaster which leaves Kate and her FBI team rattled.
After the dreadful scenes of the raid, Kate is enlisted by government official Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) who promises her the opportunity of retribution against the drug lords responsible. Kate’s curiosity and desire for justice get the better of her as she joins Matt’s secretive anti- cartel taskforce. On the team she meets the mysterious Colombian Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), a man who seems equally haunted and motivated by the ghosts of his past.
Kate soon finds herself way over her head as she realises her that her new teammates play by their own set of twisted rules as they’re men who are willing to get their hands dirty in order to clean out the cartel. Just as Matt and Alejandro keep her in the dark, scriptwriter Tayler Sheridan (who played Deputy Hale in Sons of Anarchy) keeps the audience in the dark as neither the viewers nor Kate know the motive behind the madness that ensues until near the end of the film.
Both Sheridan and director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) do an excellent job of shrouding the major plot points in mystery while making sure there’s an escalating sense of intense drama to keep things interesting.
Villeneuve creates some incredibly suspenseful scenes which will leave with biting your nails with anxious anticipation instead of eating your overpriced popcorn. One brilliant example sees a hectic shootout take place at a traffic jam outside of the US/Mexico border which puts Kate and co in extreme danger.
Another wonderfully worked set piece involves the use of infrared and night vision (reminiscent of Zero Dark Thirty – a film which Sicario has a few similarities to) which sees the American agents go on a daring mission deep in the third act.
These edge-of-your-seat but realistic action scenes are complemented by cinematographer Roger Deakins’ striking visuals of Mexico’s landscapes while Jóhann Jóhannsson’s eerie score adds an extra layer of simmering threat.
While those working behind the camera impress, those working in front of the camera also excel as the immensely talented trio of stars all deliver subtle yet spectacular performances. Leading lady Blunt displays magnificent range as Kate whose combination of sheer determination, bravery, vulnerability and confusion draws both sympathy and admiration to the character which contrasts well with her macho surroundings.
Brolin is also terrific as the smug sandal-wearing leader of operations Matt, who adds a vital dose of charisma – even if he’s a bit of a dick.
Del Toro may just steal the show however as his Alejandro has a magnetic aura. His outwardly cool, calm and collected persona hides a vicious violent streak which, when unleashed, is utterly riveting to watch. You’re never quite sure where you stand with Alejandro which is what makes him such an intriguing character.
Some credit must also be given to Daniel Kaluuya who puts in a good supporting performance as Kate’s loyal FBI partner Reggie.
While I personally loved nearly everything about Sicario – the stellar cast performances, the hair-raising action set-pieces and the gradual unravelling of the plot – it’s understandably a film that may not appeal to everyone. Those who need story information revealed to them immediately may grow impatient as things only become clear towards the end of the film. Also the slow-burning pace of the film may turn off those who like their action-thrillers consistently fast and furious.
If you can handle a delayed reveal of plotting and a measured pace then you should certainly enjoy Sicario. Ultimately, it’s a grim and gritty take on the USA’s war on drug-trafficking with the supposedly good guys exhibiting shades of grey (thankfully not 50!). Powered by first-class filmmaking, an on-form cast and some intense action scenes, Sicario is a crime thriller which hits its target successfully just as any good ‘sicario’ should. It scores a:
Check out the trailer here: