Movie Review: “Sicario” – Haunting and Bloody

Written by Jesse Gelinas October 08, 2015

Emily Blunt in Sicario

Sicario. In Mexico it means hitman.

Award-winning Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is a bit of an anomaly. His films are universally acclaimed, and yet he has not yet hit his stride in regards to breaking into the mainstream, though his previous film, “Prisoners” comes close with an A-list cast and a good return at the theater. His latest crime-thriller, “Sicario” is poised to be the piece that lets it all fall into place. This bloody tale in the midst of the Mexican drug war hits every note perfectly, creating a tight, haunting thriller filled with blood, bullets, and questions of morality.

When “Sicario” starts we are shown a stark suburban desert in Arizona. FBI SWAT agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) leads a raid on a suspected kidnapping house. After a few bullets, and explosions, they discover over 40 bodies in the walls. Macer is soon recruited by Graver (Josh Brolin), a DOD adviser putting together a task force to battle a Mexican drug cartel. She meets the rest of her team, including the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), and begins to question the agenda and legality of the operation, she now finds herself entwined in.

“You’re asking me how a watch is made. For now just keep an eye on the time.”

Villeneuve and his cinematographer Roger Deakins (who will be tackling the “Blade Runner” sequel together) have managed to take the stark, harsh sunburnt desert of the southern states and Mexico and use it to create a beautiful backdrop for the ugly, gritty war the film takes place in. It’s not the beaches of Normandy, or the jungles of Vietnam, but it still has its own soul and is as much a character as anyone else in the cast. There is a particular sequence filmed with night vision and thermal lenses that is quite interesting. The director/DoP pair seem to compliment each other incredibly well after “Prisoners” and now “Sicario.” It leaves me with higher hopes for the (still uneasy feeling) “Blade Runner” sequel.

Benicio del Toro as Alejandro in Sicario

The characters are perfectly cast, the actors filling their roles almost a bit too well. Josh Brolin Josh Brolin’s his way through the film as the oddly laidback government spook at the tip of the spear. His sandal-wearing G-man adds a few hints of humour to an otherwise bleak film. Emily Blunt, after a great turn with Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow,” has solidified herself as the newest badass chick on the block. She looks just as at home toting an assault rifle as she does on the stage, or in the period pieces she was formerly known for. I have to imagine a call from Disney is imminent with Marvel or Star Wars offers.

“You will not survive here. You’re not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.”

Perfectly crafted as the “Sicario” is, the real prize here is Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro. The shadowy triggerman just oozes mystique, carrying himself with untold gravitas from the background, until his few real moments to shine toward the end of the film. Del Toro and Villeneuve reportedly cut almost 90% of Alejandro’s dialogue from the shooting script, feeling the character worked better with less lines. And they were right on the money. Del Toro, who has been flying a bit under the radar lately, is certainly poised for a major return with this role.

Emily Blunt in Sicario

War movies have always been a cornerstone of action and dramatic cinema. WWII has “Saving private Ryan.” Vietnam has “Platoon.” The Iraq War has “The Hurt Locker,” and now the drug war has “Sicario.” It is as brutal and stark as any war epic, and will keep you tense throughout. Villeneuve has crafted a near-perfect thriller here, that raises some potent questions about how far we as a people will go to maintain order at our doorstep.

My Rating: 9/10

Sicario film poster

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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