A downright intense, gritty & unadulterated journey into the world of Mexican drug cartels that also contemplates the darkness of human behaviour from start to finish, Sicario continues Denis Villeneuve’s steady rise in the film industry as this immensely talented filmmaker delivers once again with a highly captivating cinema that brims with palpable tension from its opening moments, is narrated with a tight grip on all aspects, and packs in outstanding performances from its cast to finish as another solid entry in Villeneuve’s résumé plus it’s impressive enough to rank amongst the best films of the year.
Sicario tells the story of Kate Macer; an American DEA agent who volunteers to join a covert operation to apprehend the people responsible for the casualties of her team members in an earlier raid. Accompanying her on the mission is the Department of Defence adviser Matt and a mysterious agent Alejandro who has an agenda of his own. Idealistic in her pursuit of justice, Macer’s ethical & moral values are pushed to the limit after witnessing the illegitimate manner in which the entire assignment was being carried out and her idealistic view is shattered when she learns that she’s being used as a pawn in the grand scheme of things.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (the helmer of modern gems like Polytechnique, Incendies, Prisoners & Enemy), the first act of Sicario is a masterpiece in itself for it is tense, gripping & razor-sharp storytelling at its top quality that presents the promising filmmaker at the top of his game as he arranges those sequences in a manner that seamlessly blends all the elements together to deliver an experience that’s undeniably effective. The movie is able to grab the viewers’ attention from the start and its foreboding atmosphere is sustained till the very end. However, it slows down a bit after its tightly-packed first act but even in those moments, it never drops its gear.
Taylor Sheridan’s writing is no slouch for the screenplay puts much emphasis on the characters inhabiting this crime thriller although it shifts its focus from one to another over the course of its runtime, which was quite unexpected, but since the primary characters are penned down so expertly, the change in focus doesn’t become much of an issue. Production design team puts up set pieces that range from fancy to inhospitable while the deserted landscapes & congested locations provide more authenticity to the US-Mexico border setting where majority of its plot unfolds. One drawback, however, is a sub-segment that shows up at various intervals but has nothing relevant to contribute to the story.
Roger Deakins’ photography is pure wizardry for the master cinematographer weaves the camera around like only he can and stages some truly arresting shots through clever use of camera angles, slow pans, smooth movements & precision lighting while also making thoroughly efficient use of desaturated colour palette to encapsulate the whole film with a spiritless ambience, which fits its narrative. Editing is near-perfect in the first act but it eases its tight grasp a little once we reach the middle, only to pick up again when it nears its conclusion. The pacing is methodical & its 121 minutes of runtime unfolds in a calculated manner. And further elevating its tension is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s pulsating score that turns nearly each segment into a nail-biting moment.
Coming to the performances, Sicario features a dependable cast in Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal & a few others and everyone is excellent in their given roles. Emily Blunt has been impressing a lot of lately with the kind of roles she’s picking to play & her utter devotion to her character here makes it one of the finest works of her career, so far. Josh Brolin does well as Matt Graver; the supposed DoD adviser who invites Macer to join his team yet keeps most of the operation details to himself. Daniel Kaluuya also impresses as Reggie; Macer’s partner who also shares her idealistic view. And finally we have Benicio del Toro who keeps getting better as the story progresses & in the end, effortlessly steals the show.
On an overall scale, Sicario is a tightly-structured, tautly narrated & sharp-edged crime thriller that packs in an engrossing story filled with compelling characters and benefits immensely from Villeneuve’s ingenious direction, Sheridan’s deftly written script, Deakins’ stupendous photography, Walker’s cut-throat editing, Jóhannsson’s palpitating soundtrack & few praiseworthy performances from its reliable cast, especially Emily Blunt & Benicio del Toro. A chilling sense of dread & a threatening vibe is present on the screen at all times and how each element comes together to form a magnificent whole is nothing but admirable but there are also a few hiccups along the road as there’s still some room left for a bit more improvement, the subplot about a Mexican cop turns out to be unnecessary, and it is unable to keep the rigidness of its first act afloat for the rest of its runtime. A fascinating portrait of border warfare nonetheless, Sicario comes recommended.