THE WAR ON...
Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a by-the-books FBI agent specializing in hostage rescue and extraction. After a major bust in Arizona, Kate is recruited by charismatic CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to be part of an elite team involved with disrupting activities of the Mexican cartel. Kate is then introduced to Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who claims to be an advisor on the mission, even though his background remains a mystery. After quickly being thrown into this dangerous new world, Kate is forced to question what the mission is really about, as well as the motives driving Matt and Alejandro’s decisions. Surrounded by moral confusion through Kate’s perspective, Sicario never paints a clear picture, and presents the audience with a story that truly highlights whether the war on drugs is really having an effect, and what that effect may be.
I was blown away the first time I saw Sicario. This is a movie that challenges you with what is right and wrong, and never fully explains what type of message it is trying to get across. The action, pacing and cinematography are near flawless, and are paired with three brilliant performances. The greatest part about Sicario is how deep the layers of it’s message go. There are so many perspectives that can be seen throughout the film, and it challenges you to see them through these three main characters. The storytelling is unconventional, as it flips it’s narrative in the third act, something I loved about the structure of the movie. The final two scenes of this film hit so hard, I left the theatre really blown away the first time I saw it.
Emily Blunt gives such a powerful performance, and reminded me of Jodie Foster’s character in The Silence of the Lambs as an agent thrown into a dark world. She played the character with such a befuddled look on her face for most of the film, it gave the audience the same feeling of confusion that her character had. Benecio del Toro was also fantastic as this mysterious agent with a hidden agenda. His presence in the movie is so powerful that every time he was on screen I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I also really loved Josh Brolin’s performance, as he perfectly added some depth and contrast to this acting triangle with his charisma. He was perfectly cast.
The real stars of the show though are director Denis Villeneuve and cinematography Roger Deakins. I was a big fan of their previous collaboration Prisoners, and the two really strike a chord again here. Villeneuve is a master of suspense and constructing a shot. His precision and pacing are brilliant. That paired with the absolutely gorgeous camera work and lighting of the masterful Deakins really helped create an eerily beautiful atmosphere. Some of the shots in this movie, particularly one involving a group of agents descending into an open field at dusk, really put this film into a masterclass of technical achievement.
I love this movie. Like, really love this movie. This easily is one of my favorite movies of the last several years. I understand there are minor flaws, but a movie that gets me thinking this much, and is so technically masterful just struck a chord with me. This film challenges anyone watching it to really interpret what it is trying to say, if anything at all. I think that’s the brilliance of the film, is it a tale of morality, or is it really trying to say something about the current war on drugs? Just like Kate’s journey throughout the film, it’s really unclear. But sometimes not knowing every answer is the best part, and this film leaves you with just that.
With a combination of three brilliant central performances, and the tag team of Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, this is one of the best crafted films of recent memory. Sicario paints an unclear picture about a very unclear topic. What appears on the surface is a tightly constructed thriller. The real brilliance of the film, however, is how it manages to layer ideas and emotions about morality and what sort of impact, if any, humans really have on the world of drugs and violence, and its connection to human nature.