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Sicario - Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

TENSE, uncompromising and morally and ethically challenging, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is a formidable piece of filmmaking that undoubtedly rates among the year’s best.

An intelligent dissection of America’s war on drugs stretched to a credible what if scenario, this grips from opening set piece to bittersweet climax and then continues to linger for some time afterwards.

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an idealistic FBI agent who finds herself being recruited by an elite government unit that is engaged in a covert war against the Mexican drug cartels responsible for committing atrocities on the US side of the border.

The deeper she becomes involved, however, the more she begins to realise the dubious morality of what her job entails, while also becoming a possible target for both sides.

Based on a meticulously researched script by Taylor Sheridan, Sicario (the Mexican word for hitman) poses plenty of questions that yield no easy answers, opting instead to let audiences form their own opinions or draw their own parallels with issues like the war on terror.

How, for instance, do you fight an enemy that is prepared to do anything to win? Do you adopt the higher ground or do you fight at their level?

As if to emphasise the complexity at play, Villeneuve doesn’t just concentrate on one individual character (albeit that Macer serves as the eyes of the audience) but builds an intricate ensemble that extends to Josh Brolin’s gung-ho task force chief, Benicio Del Toro’s mysterious ally and even Maximiliano Hernandez’s Mexican border cop and father, whose own journey through the movie is just as interesting.

In doing so, he creates a wealth of fascinating characters, all of whom remain memorable in some way, and who have proper motivations – no matter how flawed – for doing the things they do.

In acting terms, everyone excels. Blunt is on career-best form, mixing feisty righteousness with fear and naivety; Del Toro mesmerises as the enigmatic Alejandro; Brolin combines cocky charisma with no-nonsense bureaucracy, and Hernandez draws our empathy for the hopelessness of his plight. There’s further noteworthy support from Daniel Kaluuya, as Blunt’s slightly more sceptical partner, and Jeffrey Donovan and Jon Bernthal.

Villeneuve, for his part, continues to enhance an already impressive reputation (post Prisoners and Incendies) by positioning himself alongside the likes of Michael Mann (of Heat/ Miami Vice form) and Martin Scorsese as a master filmmaker.

His action scenes are brutally efficient and thrillingly economic and his command of pacing is spot on. The tension in the film is often unbearable, while the various twists, turns and pay-offs are extremely well concealed so as to land some telling – sometimes gasp-inducing -blows.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography is another plus, serving to juxtapose the odd moment of landscape beauty with the brutal horror of life under cartel control in Mexico, while the overall feel of the movie leaves you, by turns, exhilarated and drained.

Quite simply, Sicario is the type of film that leaves you spoilt for superlatives.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 121mins
UK Release Date: October 8, 2015