Starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernandez. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. (2015, 121 min). LIONSGATE
“Sicario” is the Spanish word for hitman, which initially seems to be a misleading title for a film primarily about an ongoing war between U.S. drug agents and the Mexican cartels. But worry-not, kids...it’ll all make sense in the end.
Emily Blunt is Kate, a dedicated FBI agent who, with her partner, Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), fights mostly futile battle against the influx of drugs into the country. She’s then recruited by undercover CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), whose unorthodox - often illegal - methods may yield results, but have her questioning why she agreed to get involved. This is continually exasperated by the presence of Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who doesn’t appear to be affiliated with any particular government organization, but is the most effective weapon in the CIA’s intentional escalation of this ongoing border war. However, the more we learn about Alejandro, it becomes obvious he also a personal agenda.
Despite how it’s been promoted, Sicario not an action film in the purest sense. While it does feature some vivid scenes of violent gunplay, suspense and intensity, it’s mostly a deliberately-paced drama driven primarily by the performances. Blunt is solid as usual, and Brolin does a commendable job with a fairly one-dimensional role. But Del Toro steals the film from both of them as the morally ambiguous Alejandro, easily the most interesting and complex character because we’re never certain if we should actually be rooting for this guy. Whether central to a scene or lurking in the background, Del Toro is fascinating and arguably worth an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Sicario is also visually arresting, its cinematography reminding me of such 70’s-era classics as Apocalypse Now and Sorcerer. Considering the relative lack of character development and an occasionally meandering plot, technical virtuosity is one of the film’s major assets, aided in no-small-part by an ominous music score by Johann Johannsson.
While Sicario doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts, it’s a smartly-directed film that may not necessarily be emotionally captivating (save for one devastating scene near the end, which also justifies its title), but still manages to suck you in with a timely premise, bursts of intense action and stunning visual design. And at the very least, Del Toro’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
- 4 Featurettes: “Stepping Into Darkness: The Visual Design of Sicario”; “”Blunt, Brolin & Benicio: Portraying the Characters of Sicario”; “Battle Zone: The Origins of Sicario”; “A Pulse from the Desert: The Score of Sicario”
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