Reel Talk: Outstanding ‘Sicario’ is a Brutal, Realistic Portrayal of the War on Drugs

Reel Talk: Outstanding ‘Sicario’ is a Brutal, Realistic Portrayal of the War on Drugs

In Latin America, the word sicario means hitman, something this film tells you within five seconds, and something to keep in the back of your head the entire time. Sicario is about an idealistic FBI agent (an impeccable Emily Blunt) who gets put on a task force to find the men truly responsible for the growing drug war at the U.S-Mexico border. I went into the film with really high expectations, and they were exceeded in every way.

Some quick background info: when Sicario opened in limited release a few weeks ago, it pulled in more money per theater than any other limited release this year. For a hard R-rated movie this is especially impressive, but it’s easy to see why. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) and staring Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro, Sicario is easily one of the most edge-of-your-seat movies I’ve seen in a long time.

One reason for this is that the movie is lensed by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, a 12-time Oscar nominee who’s at the top of his game here. Deakins depicts the barren but beautiful landscape of the American southwest with such vastness that it almost threatens to swallow the characters whole. Also, the use of night vision and infrared cameras in one of the final sequences makes it almost unbearably tense—a nightmarish picture that is both haunting and beautiful to behold.

The biggest thing keeping this movie together, though, are the performances. Emily Blunt completely steals the show as Kate Mercer, an FBI agent, not used to fighting the drug war, but who is eager to finally make a difference. The minute facial expressions Blunt can convey to show how torn her character is with consistently crossing moral boundaries is astounding. The performance is absolutely Oscar-worthy, so I can only hope Blunt picks up even more traction between now and the end of the year.

Interestingly enough, her character is picking up some negative traction for being too submissive and sitting out on too much of the action. But, I couldn’t disagree more. Mercer is a woman with strict morals and, aside from one major sequence, she participates in almost all the action. Moreover, the one scene where her absence is truly felt is followed by quite possibly one of the finest moments of Blunt’s career—one that makes the finale both incredibly dark and incredibly moving.

Benicio Del Toro gives a towering performance as well, depicting a quick-witted, ambiguous task force leader who is more motivated by revenge than anything to do with the actual war on drugs. It’s easily his best work in ten years, with the savage intensity he brings to some moments sharply contrasting with the deeper emotions he portrays in others. Lastly, Brolin does solid, understated work as the other, wiser task force leader who isn’t afraid to bend the rules and fight for the greater good.

The film is rather episodic but manages to build fantastic tension after its insane opening minutes. Part of this is due to the dreary and ominous score by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson that perfectly compliments the brooding atmosphere. A lot of credit, also, must be given to Villeneuve, whose steady, unwavering hand refuses to flinch away from the more gruesome, gritty aspects of the drug war. Sicario affirms his place as one of the most fearsome directors working today.

This is definitely one to see in the theaters, and it will leave you thinking long after the film stops rolling.

Overall: 9.5 out of 10.

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