Sicario is a haunting, deceptively beautiful and tension filled look at the conflict on the Mexican border with drug cartels, and the struggling of drugs into the U.S border. This film delves into questions of morality and the humanity within ourselves through subtly building character, making sure to set up atmosphere and methodically building the plot, letting everything organically play out rather than rushing through it to get to more action. Even through the tension filled film with scene after scene keeping us on the edge of our seats with sweaty palms and racing hearts, director Den Villeneuve and writer Taylor Sheridan knew when to throw in a line or have these micro moments of levity to let us catch our breaths before they ramped up the tension once more. This is one of the most well-crafted and beautifully shot films of the year.
Emily Blunt plays an idealist FBI Agent Kate Macer who’s recruited to be a part of a government organization to help aid on the war on drugs. The leader of this squad is Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver, who shows up to work in shorts and sandals and always has this deceitful smile on his face. Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro is this shadowy figure on the team, a man with secrets and his own agenda, who, in his own words, just goes where he’s sent.
The film opens with bang, with the FBI raiding a suburban home in New Mexico, looking for hostages. What they find is much more brutal and sadistic. Inside this house, lining the inside of the walls, they discover cadavers in plastic bags. And then, BOOM! An explosion, killing and hurting members of the team, setting Kater Macer’s motives for wanting revenge on the men responsible, which leads her into accepting the offer laid out by Graver.
What’s laid out on the table before us is a tale of moral complexity and grey areas, as the film progresses and we realize that we don’t know who to root for or who’s even the good guys anymore. Everything in this film is a grey area. But at the same time, while we question the morality of the characters before us, Kate Macer does it with us. She is our look into this world, and as she continues asking these questions to find out what’s truly going on, we are on this ride with her and see these situations the way she does. Right and wrong hold different meanings in the world we’re brought into, and nothing in this film is simply black and white.
Alejandro is one of these grey areas. A man with a past, secrets and his own agenda, who we’re not sure whether to root for him or be disgusted by his actions. A man who, through a hard exterior, shows subtle hints vulnerable, but he’s also a man who knows how to kill without hesitating. Without blinking.
The beauty of Sicario is that, even though Kate Macer is set up as the protagonist and we are viewing the world through her eyes in essence, the film quietly sets up Alejandro as the second protagonist. To start off the film, we seemingly know who Kate is as a person and her morals and ideals, but these little hints are revealed about Alejandro throughout the film, and when the narrative switches from Kate to Alejandro near the end of the film, it does not feel jarring because it’s like we’ve gotten to know this character all along.
Famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, in his second collaboration with Villeneuve, has crafted together one of the most beautiful and haunting films of the year. You could take single shots from this film and frame them in your home. There is one sequence in particular that was truly mesmerizing and breathtaking, with the best use of night vision I’ve seen on film. This tense, heart pounding sequence was filmed with intimacy, and it was like Call of Duty mixed with Splinter Cell. Truly one of the most mesmerizing pieces of filmmaking of the year.
With all of that being said, there was one aspect of Sicario that held it back, and kept it from being perfect. We got the perspective of this Mexican cop who patrols the border ad his family, except this storyline didn’t lead to anything and it felt shoe horned in. The film would have felt a little tighter and more sincere if they simply left this storyline out altogether. It felt like emotional manipulation, and it simply did not work.
Sicario is one of the most beautifully crafted, mesmerizing films of the year, where it cares more about setting up the atmosphere and characters rather than rushing through the plot. It methodically plods along, knowing that it has enough time to tell its story, and the ending shot is a haunting goodbye, yet makes us crave more at the same time.