No movie this year is comparable to Sicario. Denis Villeneuve's crime thriller tip-toes the line of becoming a horror flick while viscerally hurling the audience into a drug war which at times feels as though we're actually experiencing from a first person perspective.
Starting in Arizona, we meet Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a by-the-books kidnap rescue team officer. Soon after her explosive brush with death and discovery of 42 hidden, yet preserved corpses, she is sucked into a drug war spanning across the southwestern United States and Mexico.
Macer didn't know what she was getting into and neither did the audience for a little too long to be tolerable. When we finally gain some insight about why exactly Macer was tagging along with Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), Matt (Josh Brolin) and their team, it comes in the form of her buddy Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) asking and being answered. Not the entire motive is revealed here but it's a disappointing form of revelation considering how long it took to get there, This fact causes the second act to feel almost boring. Don't fall asleep just yet, though, because Sicario has a more riveting grand finale than the Fourth of July.
It's refreshing and quite exciting to see Emily Blunt tossed into a cast which is a gang of intense males. She holds her own even when her character is getting physically and emotionally abused far more than anyone else on set. Props go to Blunt for being able to keep her sanity after such a tumultuous role. However, the real star and savior of the film is Benicio del Toro. The fact of the matter is we don't know enough about Blunt's character to care for her all that much. Instead, we want to know what's going on with this drug war, why mutilated bodies are hanging from Mexican bridges, and what Alejandro and Matt plan to do about it. Alejandro is clearly our best chance at knowledge and when del Toro is off screen is when Sicario feels most flat. Luckily for Villeneuve, del Toro's performance here makes the villain he played in Savages look like a scared little puppy creating the most memorable and twisted parts of Sicario.
The small bits of hyper-realistic action experienced in the films opening sequences is far outdone with the conclusion. The slow, steady build throughout Sicario's middle hour sets director of photography Roger Deakins' beautifully shot (even in the dark) action sequences up for an unforgettable impact. Villeneuve manages to create scenes which would otherwise offend cinema-goers or cause some to shy away from Sicario with proper taste and allure.
Sicario's third act is so twisted, compelling, and nightmare provoking, that i earns its other slight faults forgiveness. The plot reveals itself just in time to provide truly spine-chilling sequences between characters both new and old in the film's conclusion. The perspective instilled into audience's minds of the drug war with Mexico will feel accurate no matter how fictional the movie actually was, courtesy of its grit, subtle emotional cues, and ability to make us feel like we're truly in the back seat of the car riding along.
Along that ride, the question of "How in the world is this movie going to end?" arises. Usually, when this question is relevant late in the game it's bad news for a film, however, Sicario's strength turns out to be keeping us guessing until it shocks us, not with action, but with intense suspense. There is no point when one should or will assume Sicario has a happy ending. With pushing us to watch characters make choices we have no influence on and wishing they would do one thing while they do another even more captured than we sign up for. When a film is brave enough to stay true to its grit, theme, and attitude, it can payoff in dividends. For Villeneuve, it pays off with Sicario.
Bottom Line: Sicario hones in on violent grit and cashes in on intense, impressive performances for a twisted, spine-chilling dive into the Mexican-American drug war. 8.0/10