One of the best films of 2015 – you betcha!
An idealistic FBI agent, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by an elected Government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the United States and Mexico.
“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything that we do, but in the end you will understand. – Alejandro
I will keep this review brief because part of the enjoyment with Sicario is watching this film unfold naturally. Director Denis Villeneuve is no stranger to telling tight and tense stories that blurs the lines between morality and truth. In Sicario, those lines are divided more than ever. It’s grim, tense and hard to take in but overall Sicario succeeds in its purpose on making a convincing and realistic argument about the current state of world affairs.
Story wise, it’s important not to get yourself easily distracted. Sicario is multi-layered and complex which will feel disorientating and disconnected at first, but towards the end the elements come into play as the plot heads towards a shocking and tragic conclusion.
When we hear reports about the drug trade and the escalating war, it’s fair to suggest we only hear one side of the story. We are novices to the dark and bleak exploits that’s involved. Sicario aims to fill in the gaps where the report ends and the real story begins.
To help us understand this new world, Emily Blunt as Kate Mercer is our eyes and ears to the whole situation. After an FBI mission goes wrong, Kate is tasked with the job of assisting a task force team led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). They both share a common goal – to get back at the people responsible for the constant tragedies of a never-ending war. But how to reach that goal is where the film and those characters in particular split apart to the point where the film asks a valid question – are we really ending a war or just there to manage the situation?
As we follow Kate’s journey into discovering that ethical and moral truth, the duplicitous nature that surrounds the task force operation slowly begins to unravel.
Emily Blunt’s versatility pays off in Sicario, showing once again how underrated she is as an actress. Blunt doesn’t necessarily dominate every scene she’s in, but then again she doesn’t have to. It’s a total opposite from previous characters she’s played before such as Rita from Edge of Tomorrow, a character who was authoritative and outspoken. As Kate, Blunt’s reactive performance is more internal and stripped back. Despite the horrors, as an FBI agent she takes full responsibility for her actions and is always accountable. She’s naturally inquisitive and not afraid of asking the tough yet necessary questions. She refuses to be easily manipulated as she delves deeper into the investigation.
Idealistic has been used to describe her character but I would also throw in naive as well. Kate is a ‘by the books’ person and events within this film tests every bit of her core beliefs.
But Sicario doesn’t portray that attribute as a massive negative. There’s no denying that Kate is an honest and realistic female character with a strong ethical code. She stands up for herself in a clear as daylight, male dominated world (a strength rather than a weakness). But it’s her vulnerability which puts the film into context, something which if her character was male (as originally planned), Sicario wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact. Kate has stepped into a world that is out of her comfort zone of understanding, like a fish out of water. She’s playing catch up to people who are already three steps ahead in their end game and has to learn on the spot (sometimes the hard way) how to navigate a black ops mission with ulterior goals. There’s nothing wrong with her noble intentions at striking at the heart on the war on drugs, the film merely questions whether there’s a justifiable point. On that basis alone, this is where Blunt effortlessly excels, going through every emotion on the scale as the moral hero of the story, refusing to change her code of conduct. Don’t be surprised when award nominations come her way.
Another star performer belongs to Benicio Del Toro. As Alejandro, he’s softly spoken and mysterious. His character doesn’t say much but when he’s around, his intimidating and menacing presence can be felt and adds fuel to the increasing tension within the film. His eyes clearly tell another story and whilst he does strike up an interesting understanding with Kate (like a master teaching the apprentice), he operates by his own law and code. Del Toro’s performance is certainly more eye-catching but his performance and Blunt’s showcase the realities of war. Again, don’t be surprised when award nominations comes his way.
“You saw things you shouldn’t have seen.” – Matt
As Sicario is seen from Kate’s point of view, we as the audience are dragged along for the tense, heart-pounding and edge of your seat ride.
Sicario is Mexican for hitman and that feeling of uneasiness and tension is always felt throughout the film thanks to the brilliant soundtrack from Jóhann Jóhannsson. There’s no distinct melody that you can hum to. It’s feels random with it’s combination of pulsating beats and disorientating white noise – all designed to make you feel the suspense and imminent danger. You’re never comfortable watching this film yet at the same time, the film pulls you into the mystery which you can’t stop watching.
Sicario is very beautiful to look at thanks to the talent of Roger Deakins. It’s high time he gets an Oscar now. As director of photography, Deakins captures the scale of the film. Whilst there’s beauty in every landscape, when characters embark into unknown territories such as crossing the border or the brilliant night vision scene, the film takes on an extra level of intention and execution. Thanks to the clever editing by Joe Walker, the film almost lulls you into a false sense of security before it takes on a sinister yet epic turn.
So why is Sicario deserving of your attention? Because the visceral themes from the film are relevant today as Traffic and Zero Dark Thirty were when they came out. Nothing is ever simplistic and clear-cut. In fact it’s the total opposite. Taylor Sheridan’s tight and constructed script and Villeneve’s direction presents an unflinching account on the war on drugs. It’s a well made film that questions the essence of control like a cost benefit analysis and like all wars there is a human cost to the insane brutality.
It’s a social-political and geographical nightmare where no one is a true winner. You either play the game and accept your fate or become another powerless victim.
It may be a familiar story but Sicario wonders whether we’ve actually made any progress at all. That’s where the story ends and it’s up to you to decide that answer.