War changes people, we’ve known that for centuries now. There are always those stories that veterans tell – the myths that, sometimes, we hope aren’t true – of the times when the men holding the guns were forced to give up their morality. When they rid themselves of their own personal sense of right or wrong, in order to accomplish what they thought was necessary. When you’ve seen the horrors that the opposing side is capable of, why shouldn’t you do everything you possibly can, even if it violates the government’s code or your own, in order to stop or limit those horrors from happening?
That is the question posed in Denis Villenueve’s Sicario, a tense and perfectly made crime thriller that is our first real awards contender of the year so far. After 2014’s intelligent psychological drama, Enemy, 2013’s hauntingly mysterious Prisoners, and now this – Villeneuve has proven himself as one of the most talented directors working today. Led by an all-star cast including Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin, from a screenplay by Taylor Sheridan – Sicario accomplishes what it sets out to do, and will leave audience members haunted and invigorated by the time it finally cuts to black.
The movie starts out during an FBI raid of a house in Chandler, AZ as we meet Kate Macer (Blunt), a young and idealistic FBI team leader who helps find dozens upon dozens of dead bodies hidden in the walls of the house. From the first scene, Villeneuve’s direction and Sheridan’s script not only introduce us to our lead heroine’s perspective, but also establishes the horror involved in the ongoing drug war. After the raid takes a few surprise turns though, Kate’s calm demeanor and steadfast dedication lead to her being recruited for a new task force, led by Matt (Josh Brolin).
Presented with the opportunity to hunt down and trap the drug kings responsible for the acts of horror she’s recently witnessed, Kate accepts the offer almost immediately. As she and Matt travel to Juarez in order to transport a drug kingpin’s brother back across the border lines, she meets Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), a mysterious “adviser” for the team who quickly proves how dangerous he can be. What follows not only includes one of the most brilliantly staged action sequences of the year, set on the bridge connecting Mexico and the US, but also takes Kate down a much darker rabbit hole as she realizes what she’s helping this task force do, might not follow her specific moral code.
For the opening half of the film, Villeneuve uses the camera to the best of his ability as he stays on Kate’s perspective, allowing the audience to learn more about the operation at the same time she does. When she takes notice of something, we do too, and while a lot of that can be attributed to the camera movements and the way the story unfolds, Blunt’s eyes communicate just enough to let us into her character’s head, without speaking a single word. Her performance is understated, and almost entirely internal in some ways, but allows the audience to fill in the gaps that the screenplay refuses to outright reveal to us.
However, the scene-stealer of the film goes to Benicio del Toro, as his Alejandro might just be one of the best anti-heroes ever put to the silver screen. Screaming with rage, but never raising his voice above a whisper, del Toro is able to communicate a layered and nuanced performance that few other actors may have been able to bring to the role. He’s one of those magnetic characters that you can’t take your eyes off of from the minute he enters the frame, and as the movie begins to move farther away from Kate’s story, and closer to his, it slowly becomes a much more personal mission.
The film is also Villeneuve’s most beautiful outing to date as well, with frequent collaborator Roger Deakins coming onboard as cinematographer. Deakins uses the desert landscape to create a gorgeous, and layered aesthetic for the movie, with one sequence in specific using night vision and environments better than any other film has yet. If this is the cinematographer and director that will be taking on the Blade Runner sequel together, then it looks like that property is in more-than-safe hands.
With a movie that works perfectly on every level, and is one of the most refreshing crime films of the past few years – Villeneuve has crafted an edgy and absorbing film filled with morally ambiguous, but always understandable characters. Sicario shows a very straightforward look at the often cruel world we live in now. But instead of telling us it will all get better again, the movie proposes that maybe the best we can hope for now is a world that has a manageable amount of cruel, the kind that we can still live with. For some people, that might not be a satisfying conclusion, but for me, I couldn’t have imagined it going any other way.
You know that feeling you get after seeing an really good film and it feels like electricity is coursing through your veins? Well that is what it felt like after I saw Sicario, a movie that reminded me why I fell in love with cinema in the first place. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
Sicario is in select theatres now, and will be opening wide on October 2nd.
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
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