Sicaro, as we find out means ‘hit-man’ in Mexican, follows an FBI special agent (Emily Blunt) who while investigating a kidnapping stumbles across a house where a number of horrific murder victims had been hidden inside the walls by the Mexican Cartel. She’s then added to an elected government task force to aid in the war against drugs on the Mexico-US border with shady government agent (Josh Brolin) and unknown consultant (Benicio Del Toro).
I’ll get a couple of negatives out the way first. Yes it is two hours and the way the film is set up is at a slow tempo so if you have a short attention span or don’t like films with the tone of say, Prisoners, Zero Dark Thirty or the Hurt Locker, then this film won’t be for you. On the other hand if you like something with gritty realism where there is an absence of suspending your disbelief then look no further. The only other blemish on this film was that the main protagonists’ arc was (for me) in the end unsatisfying. Two thirds of the film is built around her and her responses to the situation she’s put in and what’s going on around her, but in the last third the focus shifts to another character leaving the former to one side. This wasn’t detrimental to the whole film as the shift in focus was a good one, but from the perspective of this lead character the back end of their arc ended up being anti-climatic.
Dennis Villeneuve directed Sicario and has easily proven that Prisoners (Hugh Jackman/Jake Gyllenhaal) and the critically acclaimed ‘Enemy’ were not flukes. Villeneuve has a very distinct style where many of the scenes are absent of anything convoluted and thus when leading you through a scene makes the build up of tension so much more effective. This combined with the soundtrack of uncomfortable siren like sounds bring about a satisfying payoff when the scene in question is completed, whether the build up was a bluff or not. The focus on the emotional reactions of the characters is at the forefront and he makes good use of low eye level camera angles to view the environment as the character would, the use of the cameras are deliberately slow and methodical, this goes a long way to the realism on show.
The all round acting was of a very good standard. Josh Brolin was as playful as ever as a shady government agent, Emily Blunt goes from strength to strength with her range and we have a phoenix like rise from the ashes from Benicio Del Toro. Benicio’s films recently had been few and far between recently and the roles have been lacking something that lends itself to his charisma. Here though he plays Alejandro with the mysticism needed to go with his backstory and is as suave as fuck while doing it. I know for one I can’t pull of a linen suit, that’s for damn sure. None of the three were any better or worse than the others they all just served to move the plot forward in an utterly convincing way.
A problem with many movies (especially action) is that modern Hollywood is so concerned with effects and inventiveness that a lot of pinnacle scenes in blockbusters are entirely forgettable. Sicario dodges this bullet by utilising the methodical pace of the film with memorable set ups. As exposition is drip fed to the viewer slowly when there is a scene that increases the tension or moves the plot along, you take note. You mix in some brutality in there and you have something that is effective as it is compelling.
The script is good and has a consistent message through sub text throughout. The constant battle between idealism and pragmatism is ever present and develops itself towards a naivety vs experience argument/confrontation. There is no one winner on either of these fronts which gives the viewer their own idealistic take on the plot. A clever mechanism to get the viewers to appreciate the film.
Sicario doesn’t reach the levels of preachy-ness it could have but it does take a real cynical look at how high level governmental agency operate on a geopolitical level. There’s not a lot of love lost in the democratic process when it comes to getting the job done with this take on how the US conducts themselves.
A slow methodical cartel thriller with some great performances and tense moments scattered throughout. Probably the best directed film of the year so far, it’s beautifully shot and well constructed tension is great to watch if you like that sort of thing. There is very little wrong with it and a lot right.