MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Sicario’ Plunges You Into The Dour Heart Of A Drug War

Film: Sicario
Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

In the US and Mexico, the war on drugs rages on. The line between cop and criminal has become blurred in a battle that takes any and all prisoners. The ethical rot brought on by the ever-rising body count pushes people to despair, to dark places from where they can never return. The FBI is a place for men to measure dicks and get off on doling their own skewed versions of “justice.” That’s what Sicario presupposes, at least. Director Denis Villeneuve’s newest presents to you a nihilistic worldview and drowns you in its palpable anguish. Bullets riddle people, places and things like they’re expendable for the ultimate cause. Simply put: This movie is going to blow you away.

FBI Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is thrust into the ugliness of the drug trade after being enlisted by an elected government task force burdened with deescalating the war on drugs in the border area between US and Mexico. Hired by a gung-ho agent, Matt (Josh Brolin), Kate quickly gets in over her head. The accompaniment of Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a mysterious and dangerous member of the task force, Macer gets dragged into a nightmare she can’t shake. Bureaucracy blurs the objective of her mission.

As you may have noticed above, Sicario is a dark way to spend two hours in a movie theater. From the get-go, Villeneuve is dedicated to putting the viewer directly in the path of harm that these characters are going through. The opening scene will shock and most likely disturb you, and that’s the point. Even when helicopters graze over the deserted land between US and Mexico, the plateaus are darkly shaded, almost like showing clear lines of infection. I wasn’t kidding about how rotten this film makes the world look. Unlike other efforts to show the darkness that lurks in the drug trade, this one doesn’t over explain how things came to be. It throws you into the atmosphere and makes you soak up every shadow created, whether that is physical, moral or emotional.

What is atmosphere without the people who inhabit it, right? Every actor in Sicario is at the top of his or her game. Emily Blunt defies the “soft-turned-hardened by violence” trope by realizing she is much smaller than the cause, causing her to feel claustrophobic in a world she was too narrow-minded to fully realize. The comparison to Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark Thirty is under-serving how great Emily is as Kate.

Josh Brolin is incredible as Matt, the flip-flop sporting frat boy of a government agent. Matt hides layers upon layers of narcissism under a smarmy grin and Brolin is the perfect person to play him. Then again, Benicio Del Toro upstages everyone as Alejandro. There’s a dark past behind Alejandro’s eyes and the only glimpse we get into his story is through his mannerisms. He trembles while he sleeps, speaks in hushed tones and constantly glares at people like his eyes are weapons of emotional destruction. Del Toro is such a force that he could make you feel claustrophobic in an open field.

I’m trying not to reveal much about the plot for good reason. The more fresh you go into it, the more you’ll probably get out of it. Don’t be deterred by the trailers though; Sicario is more triptych than you are led to believe. Although Blunt’s Kate is the main thrust of the story, the narrative goes off in a couple of tangents that creates a more well-rounded case for people involved in the war on drugs. No one is “right” in writer Taylor Sheridan’s story and Villeneuve goes to great lengths to make sure you know that. Without sacrificing pace or tension, of course.

Sicario isn’t for the faint of heart. Everything I’ve said about thrusting the viewer into a dark and violent war is reflected upon its visuals tenfold. None of the violence borders on fetishistic, but every gunshot is like a punch to the stomach, as is usual with Villeneuve’s other efforts (see: Polytechnique). If there were a tunnel of light in the darkness, Sicario would be the movie that dashes it away right when you’re most optimistic. I present to you, one of the best movies of the year.

Grade: A-

Sam Cohen
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