Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Jon Bernthal and Victor Garber
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: October 9th
It might be lazy to fall back on easy comparisons, but if 2013’s kidnap-thriller Prisoners was director Denis Villeneuve channelling David Fincher, then Sicario sees him tap into Michael Mann during his Heat/The Insider prime.
Emily Blunt plays an FBI field agent called up to the big leagues by Department of Defence contractor Josh Brolin to take part in an inter-agency taskforce that aims to take down a major drug cartel by cutting its mass-murdering head off. Benicio del Toro initially appears to be Brolin’s shadowy right-hand-man, but his exact history and ties with the cartels remain outside of Blunt’s (and our) need-to-know status.
First-time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan drip-feeds us information from Blunt’s perspective, tossed in not just at the deep end, but the deepest, darkest point imaginable. Fighting the good fight from the American side of the border, Blunt thought she was privy to the depths of the cartel’s evil nature, but during her first mission across the border she gets a glimpse over the edge of a precipice she had no idea existed. How do you fight an evil like that? With shades of grey, with some necessary evils fighting the good fight and with an expected amount of collateral damage – but can someone as by-the-book as she is ever hope to make a difference in an all-out war like this?
Running alongside the primary plot is a treatise on female empowerment – or lack thereof – that calls to mind Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs; not least because the reasons behind Blunt’s sudden promotion remain blurry; she’s asked questions that nobody else seems to be getting asked (“You got a husband? Any kids?”) and the movie itself seems to acknowledge the comparison with a third-act scene shown solely in night-vision.
Behind the scenes, Villeneuve has surrounded himself with the best there is; Roger Deakins’ peerless cinematography uses light and motion in original, invigorating ways to paint a beautiful portrait of one of the ugliest plights in the modern world, while Johann Johannson provides a pounding, unnerving score that brings to mind Trent Reznor with any semblance of light and hope sucked entirely out. The high-end production and big-star names are there as a bait-and-switch, as the narrative twists and turns in directions we never expect, forcing us to constantly keep up and re-evaluate what we’re being presented.
“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do,” del Toro advises Blunt, but he might as well be talking to us. Just as he did with Prisoners, which could’ve very easily been a by-the-numbers thriller, here we’ve been duped into thinking this is going to be another run-of-the-mill drug procedural, but the further along we take this ride we get further and further away from any kind of well-known, well-tread narrative safety.
A tough, uncompromising watch, and one of the most exhaustingly tense movies ever made. Between this, Narcos and Cartel Land, 2015 seems to be the year mainstream entertainment focuses on the Mexican drug problem, but Sicario is the one people will still be talking about for years to come.