America likes to declare war on things. The War on Slavery. The War on Poverty. The War On Terror.
Sicario is set in The War on Drugs. Along the Mexican border, the FBI do their best to crack down on crime, but their efforts are futile. It’s like trying to put out a forest fire with a half-empty sandcastle bucket.
So, in step two Department of Defence advisors: one cocky and relaxed (Josh Brolin); the other enigmatic and – importantly – foreign (Benicio Del Toro). They take local FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) along for the ride, much to her own confusion.
Their job is to shake things up, and as Brolin’s Matt says, their objective is to ‘dramatically overreact.’ They enter the murky and exceedingly violent Mexican cartel territory, where the ethics of America don’t apply. As the story progresses, Kate – and we the audience – slowly figure out what exactly is going on…
Director Denis Villeneuve knows how to make violence scary. Every bullet dodged in Sicario feels like a near-death experience. Guns are loud, and knives are sharp, and you’d feel lucky if you were only shot or stabbed. In this ominous heartland, bodies hang from bridges and rot behind walls.
Much like Villeneuve’s previous film, Prisoners, Sicario is a slow build, a coiling thriller, where the tension oozes rather than explodes. There are no nice scenes, and each second of Sicario is underscored by an uncomfortable dread. Mexico is like an unfamiliar alley at night-time, or what Dublin feels like to country folk (and what Limerick feels like to Dubs).
To stop before giving too much away, Sicario is a masterful film. Having delivered on the promise of Prisoners (and before that, Incendies), Villeneuve is one of – if not the – most exciting filmmakers in Hollywood, and hopefully he continues in this vein.
The performances are all Oscar-worthy, but probably in too niche a film genre to garner any. Emily Blunt is first-rate as the film’s heart, but she’ll probably lose out on award-buzz to Cate Blanchett or the likes. Brolin is similarly excellent, but Benicio steals the show. His mysterious advisor is the film’s main intrigue, and we latch onto his every action, hunting for clues to help figure out this puzzle (‘why did he fold his jacket and put it in a bag?’).
In an era of cinema when campy superhero crap is making a return, and onscreen violence has been neutered to an all-time low, it’s refreshing and exciting to see a film that feels real.
Sicario is brutal, terrifying, and definitely one of the best films of the year.
One of the gold stars below will take you to Rían’s Twitter. Four of them will take you to unflattering photos of Benicio Del Toro. Click wisely.