Jumping across the US/Mexico border, Sicario is a gruelling and confounding drama-thriller that ranks among the best films of the year.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Sicario is one of the past decade’s most important and insightful feature films for an infinite number of reasons. Screening at Perth’s Rooftop Movies this Wednesday, Sicario may indeed prove the existence of one of Hollywood’s long lost traditions – a focus on substance over style. Having viewed Sicario earlier this year at the time of its cinema release, I was unaware of how it would cling onto me over the following few months.
The film is a Tex-Mex thriller with more balls, brain, and brawn than most contemporary actioners. The story kicks off with an FBI-SWAT raid on a neighbourhood property in Arizona. Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), along with partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) and the rest of the team, find a drug-running hub featuring bodies stuffed into the walls. However, a devastating explosion compromises the crime scene. Addressing the incident, shady CIA Special Activities Division officer Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his ‘associate’ Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) hire Macer to help make a difference across the border in Mexico.
Sicario soon rumbles along with the tenacity and mercilessness of its core subjects. With the US Presidential election and US-Mexico relations key to world news, the film provides a fresh, blistering take on such a harrowing topic.
The narrative, broken up into key set-pieces and tension-inducing moments, breaks down the ins and outs of Macer’s world. Director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners) aptly brings Taylor Sheridan’s tight screenplay to fruition. Like his previous crime-thriller creations, Villeneuve’s style and agenda divert entirely from the norm, and unlike most action-thrillers, his less-is-more approach bolsters each scene.
Sicario, though reliant on its themes, refuses to ram it down our throats. The film unleashes the horror of this ongoing situation. The second major set-piece, following Graver and Alejandro’s spec-ops team venture across the US-Mexico border, makes for a fearsome 10-minute interlude. Throughout this scene, Villenueve and co. handle each aspect with quiet reserve and efficiency. The viewer knows something will go wrong, but not when the threat will strike or who will lose their life. The sequence, ending in a execution-style shootout, says more about Macer, Graver, and Alejandro’s dynamic than any line of exposition or plot twist.
Congratulations are in order for Sicario’s acclaimed cinematographer. Roger Deakins, known for sumptuous wonders including No Country for Old Men and Skyfall, makes even the most perfunctory settings feel wholly cinematic. From interrogation rooms to sunset-lit vistas, the film’s tough, gruelling aesthetic puts Deakins up for significant Oscar consideration.
The performances further add to Sicario’s searing tone and atmosphere; Blunt injects personality into the film’s dark, decrepit narrative in a role originally written for a male. Brolin and del Toro are charismatic in polar-opposite roles, adding to the film’s emotional heft.
Pushing the viewer into one of the world’s most dangerous places, this crime-thriller is an unforgettable experience. Aided by a spectacular cast and crew, this morality play lingers in the consciousness long after the credits.
Sicario screens at Perth’s Rooftop Movies November 18th
Images courtesy of Roadshow Films