Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro
In a year which, thus far, has seen plenty of films carrying a shit load of hype and expectations, only for most of them to severely underwhelm (‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ aside), it is refreshing that ‘Sicario’ heads into cinemas as a relative unknown. Only in the past couple of weeks has discussion of the latest offering from Denis Villeneuve reached the wider film community. And those discussions have been nothing but positive. Huge praise has been lavished upon Villeneuve by those who have managed to see ‘Sicario’, a film which has gone under the radar to become one of the most critically-acclaimed secrets of the year. I was ecstatic then, when I was reminded that months ago I had bagged myself a ticket to an advance screening of ‘Sicario’. I hadn’t been this excited for a trip to the cinema in months.
At the start of the film, we are informed that “sicario” means hitman in Mexico; this is not just an interesting factoid, this is a warning. We are instantly given a taste of what’s to come, as we meet Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a by-the-book FBI agent who uncovers a brutal murder scene, and inadvertently gets the attention of some very powerful people. Kate, determined to find those responsible for the horrible crimes she witnesses, ends up in the middle of a vicious Cartel war which task force leader, Matt (Brolin), and the mysterious Alejandro (Del Toro) are determined to win by any means possible.
I had heard fantastic things about the acting in ‘Sicario’, with Emily Blunt’s name now seemingly in the hat for just about any lead female role on the back of this showing. She is undoubtedly the focal character here, but I think the descriptions of a “strong” female character are a little exaggerated, which must not be misconstrued as a criticism. Instead, I want to commend Blunt for a near perfect rendition of a fragile, rabbit-in-the-headlights protagonist, who desperately scrambles to adapt to the incomprehensible environment she has stepped into. Josh Brolin is an actor I’ve seen a lot of lately, and I’m happy for it. I enjoyed his performance in ‘No Country For Old Men’, but this was a very different role. He sheds any sense of a man on the run, and becomes an authoritative, clever hunter. But for me, the outstanding performance comes from Benicio del Toro who, again, is an actor I have never really paid much attention to until recently. His brooding, enigmatic portrayal of the deadly, roguish Alejandro is impeccable. He manages to expertly blend cool and composed with a terrifying, ruthless dark side; a role which may well be my favourite of the year so far.
If the acting displays were touching perfect, the direction by Villeneuve grabs perfect by the throat and makes it beg for mercy. I absolutely loved ‘Prisoners’, whilst I was frustrated by ‘Enemy’, but I think ‘Sicario’ is Villeneuve’s best work. He throws us in to an explosive start, and builds a tension from this moment which never ceases. I was constantly on edge, scouring the screen for where the next threat would appear from. You hear this said of a lot of films, but there was a real sense of a first person view, like I was in the film, bringing up the rear, gun at the ready. The musical score too, exacerbated the suspense and feeling of dread which came with each shuddering scene. If there is just one criticism I can throw out there, it’s that I couldn’t help but feel an underlying aimlessness to the plot at times. Sure, there is the Cartel targets to hunt down, and some kind of end game in sight for our three characters, but it almost felt as if that conclusion was relentlessly slipping away from us.
Until BANG! Is that conclusion enough for ya? I don’t know, maybe it should be another tick in the positive column that the ending reared its head rather abruptly. Either way, this is an action-packed, nerve-jangling experience, and one which I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying. The highest compliment I can offer ‘Sicario’ is that it reminded me a lot of my favourite episode of ‘True Detective’ (series 1, episode 4), where the shit really hits the fan. If you know which episode I’m talking about, you will already be booking your tickets to see this film. It’s time to believe the hype, for once.