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Sicario: The Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal

Plot: FBI agent, Kate Macer (Blunt) is recommended to a task force taking on Mexician drug cartels, but the shady command of Matt Graver (Brolin) and Alejandro (Del Toro) puts her at unease.

I kept forgetting that Sicario was directed by Denis Villeneuve. It is just, compared to his other features, it seems like such a different animal. Take Villeneuve’s Prisoners, for example. The story was very confined to a minimal amount of sets, often claustrophobic, and focused more on the characters than the set-pieces. Sicario attacks a much larger scale, as determined American task forces whizz around the States and Mexico, taking on ruthless drug-lords, in a number of nail-biting fights. However, despite the grandeur of Sicario, it is still, very clearly, a Villeneuve piece. Even when we are in the middle of an action sequence, the camera is always more focused on the characters than the guns. A final act raid in an underground tunnel seems more focused on Blunt’s FBI agent, rather than the action roaring around them. The figure of the American hero is also twisted terrifically again, morality being prodded with a stick with no fear of a painful backlash from patriotism itself. You leave Sicario very sure that you have been watching a Villeneuve film.

Sicario is also that little bit more fun than Prisoners too. Prisoners was a good idea, but weighed down by the debate of morality. Sicario has the same discussion, but wraps it up in a neat, little thriller. It is a slow-burning movie, yes, but it understands the importance of rewarding our patience with some solid action pieces. The opening is a brutal display of hard-hitting shoot-outs. It’s not so much the gore, but the shocks of what the agents find lying in wait for them. It is a great start to the movie, building up these villainous cartel figures (this is important for later), and putting faith in Emily Blunt’s steely FBI heroine. There is also another memorable fight scene, which puts more focus on tension than violence. Trapped in gridlock and constricted to their convoy of vehicles, the good guys realise they are surrounded by potential hit men. As the scene plays out, slowly and full of dread, your heart is in your mouth, unsure how this is going to play out. It feels very real and gritty. Of course, Sicario is less concerned with its action and more about the characters that drive the action. The three leads are all on great form. Blunt is, as she always is, a show-stealer. She always seems to grab the most refreshing characters, almost free of the confines of unimaginative characters written for Hollywood’s women. Macer is a badass, without ever seeming like a movie character. She is not immune to breaking down into tears, just because the writers are too scared of the public’s backlash. The beauty over the tears is that she can still have a weak moment and come back even stronger in the very next scene. It really takes Macer to another level, that agent trying to do right in a world way over her head. It is also refreshing that the movie never sexualises her. In fact, one scene goes out of its way to tell Blunt how ugly she looks. Brolin and Del Toro are also strong pieces to the puzzle. Josh Brolin is turning into a very reliable star and while he never quite seems to amaze, he always charms. He is introduced to us as the unorthodox professional, able to win over a taskforce meeting, all while wearing his sandals.

So far, so… okay. Sicario, at the hour and a half mark was impressing, but according to the reviews, I expected more. It was a decent thriller, filled with conspiracy theories and a mystery over how ‘moral’ were the characters. The set-pieces were good and the performances were fun to watch. But I wasn’t quite getting the thrill I expected from Sicario. Maybe it was hyped up too much. Then the final forty minutes kick in and suddenly, I understand where the praise is coming from. The task force finally catch up to their target, a ruthless head of the main cartel, and the following attack is a beautiful piece of both script and direction. Much like the film itself, Del Toro’s performance also ascends to greatness in the final quarter. It is good throughout, but Del Toro never pushes himself, until he gets to his character’s reveal. It is a credit to the actor and the writers that we are no longer sure who deserves to be seen as the hero. Del Toro spends the final fight ticking all the right boxes; he is almost re-enacting a James Bond film, starring him (as the lead that is!). However, the tone never quite settles, in a good way, that crawling feeling on the back of your neck not subsiding. There is also a smart piece of direction, where throughout the movie, we keep cutting away to a family man who ends up caught in the firefight at the end, a neat representation of the innocents that the heroes of the movies, and perhaps in real life, fail to think of, as they take on the ‘bad guys’. The movie ends, as Villeneuve is a fan of, open-ended. Everything is resolved to a point, but it doesn’t feel like anyone won. Do we agree with what happened? Is this better for the country? Did the true bad guy get away with it? The ending is made shocking to the rush of questions that attack your mind once the credits have rolled.

Final Verdict: Sicario is a tough lesson in morality, picking apart the American hero viciously. However, it does reward the viewer with a well-acted, strong thriller.

Four Stars