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Review: Sicario

October 8, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Sicario PosterNamed after the Mexican word for “hitman,” Sicario is a tense and thought provoking condemnation of the war on drugs, that provides a timely examination of the murky border policies and abuses of police force that have come in its wake.

After members of her team are killed during a grisly raid on a dealer’s house, FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is sent to the border of the United States and Mexico, to capture a notorious drug lord and strike at the heart of the cartels.

Kate is taking orders from special agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who are part of an elected task force investigating cartel activity and looking to shake things up, leaving her apprehensive about the mission.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, and continuing his expansion into American genre filmmaking, Sicario is another morally complex thriller from the Canadian auteur, that boasts solid production values across the board.  Although it never quite reaches the twisting and turning heights of his previous white knuckle thriller Prisoners, the film allows him to further prove himself as one of our finest purveyors of tension and suspense, especially during the riveting set pieces.

The film’s best sequences are a brutal firefight staged during a traffic jam at the border, providing a pulse pounding instigation for the ensuing violence, and a gripping raid on a tunnel, filmed through shadows and night vision goggles.  These scenes really allow legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins to show off his prowess behind the camera, after some more standard camerawork in the earlier scenes.  A shot of uniformed and heavily armed agents walking in silhouette against the twilight skyline, is one of the most haunting and beautifully composed images that the film has to offer.

Although some of the lead character’s choices threaten to strain credibility, and a few of the plot twists are a touch predictable, Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is wrought with moral dilemmas and a palpable sense of unease escalating throughout.  Emily Blunt is excellent as both action hero and moral window for the audience, holding her own during the scenes of combat, and equally powerful in the dramatic moments when she comes to understand her true place in the mission.  Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro also deliver taut performances, affectively portraying their characters through shades of grey.

Diving into the complex and sleazy politics behind the war on drugs, Sicario is a tense crime procedural and slowburn thriller with dramatic real world implications, built around an underlying sense of moral ambiguity, that subverts our traditional perceptions of heroes and villains every step of the way.

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