Sicario  is the Mexican cartel thriller directed by rising star Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy). In an effort to fight the drug war along the US/Mexican border, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), both idealistic and way too attractive for her job, is recruited to a special task force led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, also too good looking to be an FBI agent). Alongside the enigmatic and supremely badass Alejandro (Benicio del Toro, also handsome), the team takes the fight to the cartel. However, everyone is not as they seem as their real motives are revealed and the badassery gets cranked up to 11.
Villeneuve, auteur? Denis Villeneuve has quickly become one of the best new filmmakers working today. You think Ridley Scott would let just anyone direct the sequel to Blade Runner? Actually let’s not get into that, we don’t know if The Martian was a fluke just yet. Anyway, Villeneuve has consistently put out extraordinary work and has begun to show a distinct style. Morally complex characters, dark subject matter, absolutely stunning visuals. All of those things are on display here and executed wonderfully. If a film has the Villeneuve name attached, it would be a disservice to yourself not to see it.
An acting showcase. All of the acting in Sicario is truly wonderful. Emily Blunt, who acts as the audience surrogate, gives one the best performances of her career. She’s both tough and vulnerable, making Macer a character who is believable, but can still hold her own. It’s a nice balance between the badassery of Rita Vrataski (Edge of Tomorrow) and the vulnerability sometimes missing from the now popular “tough female lead.” Brolin does well but is not the most fleshed out character in the world. But Benicio del Toro delivers a performance that has to be a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nom. His character, Alejandro, makes the Fonz look like a dweeb. He is beyond cool and is responsible for some absolutely killer third act action.
Praise thee, lord Deakins. Roger Deakins continues to make the Academy look like absolute fools. The film is gorgeously shot (surprise, surprise) and will almost certainly get nominated for Best Cinematography. The locations are presented gorgeously and the action is shot with glorious, wide-framed celluloid magic. You know those Twitter accounts that tweet out gorgeous stills from films? Yeah, expect quite a few of those from Sicario. There is also a sequence that is shot partially in night-vision, partially in thermal vision that shifts with perspective. Even the most casual film fans will surely be impressed with this creative, pulse-pounding scene.
Gripping drama with a hint of action. There are four big action setpieces in the film, and while that’s comparable with many action films, this is not an action film, per say. The action is earned but is in total service of the story and not the focus of the film at all. Speaking of the story, it may not entirely work for general audiences. It’s fairly slow-paced and has many complexities. Character motivations are often hidden and there is a lot of backstory that is inferred. The audience is rewarded for their patience with some awesomely-executed action, but the impatient may get antsy. The perspective also switches to Alejandro from Macer at the end of the third act and it is undeniably jarring. The scene is great, but many will wonder why the story abandons its main character completely for its climax.
One of the best of 2015 (so far).