SICARIO (USA/15A/121mins)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Emily Blunt, Victor Garber, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro.
THE PLOT: After a gruesome find at a house raid in Arizona, FBI Agent Kate Macy (Emily Blunt) is asked to volunteer for a task force aimed at taking a Mexican cartel boss down. Initially excited to be finally on the front lines, Macy soon learns that there is more going on in this task force than she has been led to believe.
THE VERDICT: Denis Villeneuve has blazed quite a trail with his previous films – INCENDIES, PRISONERS and ENEMY – so it is fitting that he brings Sicario to the Cannes Film Festival, and fitting that the film be a dark and dense thriller, beautifully shot by Roger Deakins.
Emily Blunt is the heart of the story; the outsider drawn into a world that she doesn’t understand. It is through her eyes that the audience learns, this used to make sure that we are on the morally righteous Macy’s side for the entire film. Blunt is strong and engaging in the role, and sets the pace for the rest of the cast. Josh Brolin plays a lax, Lebowski-esque CIA Agent, Benicio Del Toro plays Alejandro, a CIA Agent with a dark and mysterious past. Del Toro is perfectly enigmatic in the role, and consistently throws the ordered world off balance. The rest of the cast is made up of Jon Bernthal, Victor Garber, Daniel Kaluuya and Jeffrey Donovan.
Actor Taylor Sheridan – known for VERONICA MARS and SONS OF ANARCHY – turns his hand to writing for Sicario, and delivers a tense and tightly written script for the film. There are some wonderful turns of phrase throughout, although the choice to keep the audience in the dark with Macy does lead to some struggles with pacing and engagement.
Director Denis Villeneuve amps up the tension and sense of creeping dread throughout the film, using a score by Jóhann Jóhannsson to thrilling effect. Villeneuve makes the world of the film unsettling – even when Deakins’ cinematography and Joe Walker’s editing make it a thing of beauty – and combined with the subtle performances in the film, this adds up to a menacing and engaging whole. There are time, however, where the film becomes too involved in creating a feeling, rather than a coherent story, which means the pacing drops and audience curiosity turns to confusion. Villeneuve claws it back in the end, but the middle of the film is different beast to the rest.
In all, SICARIO is beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, has a feeling of dread and fear throughout thanks to director Villeneuve and contains some strong and masterful performances. The pacing drags from time to time, but Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score keeps things moving, and it all comes back together in the end.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - Sicario
Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    After the disappointment of his abstract, stubbornly obtuse doppelganger thriller Enemy, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has returned to meaty, powerful filmmaking with Sicario. As the advertising for the film says, Sicario means hitman in Mexico. Kate (Emily Blunt) is an FBI kidnap response agent who raids a house in Arizona. Instead, she stumbles upon corpses in the walls of the house. These are the actions of the ruthless Mexican drug cartels, who have now seeped across the border with their product into the lucrative American market. She’s roped into a cross-agency investigation into one of the cartels by gum-chewing CIA Agent Matt (Josh Brolin). Dealing with a Mexican drug cartel isn’t her expertise, but she has field experience which will come in valuable. She also wants to find justice for the dead people in the house. She, Matt and a response team of hardened men head across the border to Juarez to seize a suspect for interrogation. Also along for the ride is strong-but-silent Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a man of indeterminate motivations but who is eagle-like in his observations of potential danger on the streets. Nothing gets past him. After being tipped off by the corrupt local police, the cartels attempt an ambush. Kate soon finds herself in over her head, realising that she is just a pawn in a highly dangerous and dubiously amoral game of chess, where the stakes are very high… If you saw Cartel Land recently, then you’ll know just how brutal and uncompromising Mexican drug cartels are. Sicario seeks to make a fictional story as realistic and gripping as possible. It starts with a tense, brilliant opening sequence and never lets up for a second. Danger and death are always around the corner, just waiting to be dealt out once a threat is perceived. As the only woman in the story and perhaps the only character with a moral compass, Kate acts as the audience surrogate into this dark world. Having impressed greatly in a physically demanding role in Edge Of Tomorrow, Blunt brings that same sense of both vulnerability and steely determination. She more than holds her own against Brolin and Del Toro, both of whom are excellent. Del Toro’s hitman character is mercurial to begin with, but he really comes into his own towards the end of the film. If only the recent Hitman: Agent 47 had been more like Alejandro. Though, Alejandro would be likely to wipe the floor with Agent 47. Working from Taylor Sheridan’s lean script, Villeneuve keeps the pacing perfect throughout. He stages some outstanding setpieces, such as a night raid in a tunnel as seen through non-green nightvision goggles. Roger Deakin’s cinematography frames these driven characters in both desolate and over-populated landscapes, for maximum contrast and effect. Villeneuve is a powerhouse director when he wants to be, giving strong roles to talented actors, raising their game and the film in the process. Sicario is a film that pulls no punches and offers no easy answers. It’s also a palm-sweating, intense and thrilling journey into the dark heart of America’s war against Mexican drug cartels. A sequel has just been announced, but Sicario is fine as a standalone film. Whether Villeneuve will return is unknown, as he’s currently prepping the Blade Runner sequel. No pressure there. This reviewer can find no flaws in Sicario, which is easily one of the year’s finest films and will blow you away. In one word: excellent. *****

  • emerb

    “Sicario” is Denis Villeneuve’s intense drug cartel, hard-edged thriller which combines heavy duty action and suspense with another uneasy look at the emotional consequences of violence. Two years after making his U.S. debut with the superb kidnapping drama “Prisoners,” Villeneuve once again shines and I think “Sicario” is, quite simply, one of the finest films of the year. It is extreme, brutal, complex and sometimes sickeningly violent, and by far one of the best movies ever made about the dominance of drugs in our culture. Like a lot of movies that use unfamiliar or foreign words as titles, “Sicario” provides a definition right at the outset, we’re told it’s the Spanish word for “hit man”. This then sets us up for a rollercoaster ride complete with intense shoot-outs, violent interrogations and merciless assassinations all across the US/Mexican border.

    “Sicario” dramatizes a complex U.S.-led effort to take out a major Mexican drug lord south of the border and begins when Kate (Emily Blunt), a well-respected FBI agent specializing in kidnapping cases, makes a gruesome discovery during a raid, in which dozens of rotting corpses are hidden behind the walls. The house is owned by the Diaz family, a powerful Mexican drug cartel operating on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border. The drama unfolds almost entirely through the eyes of Kate. Initially she is in complete control but she soon finds herself getting entangled in the morally questionable work of an inter-agency task force assembled to help the U.S. combat the war on drugs. She’s invited by an alleged Department Of Defence “consultant,” Matt (Josh Brolin), to join his operation, which seeks to destabilize the Mexican cartel responsible for the massacre. Told she’ll be flying to El Paso, Kate is instead taken to Juárez, just across the border, for a highly dangerous extraction mission—just the first of numerous lies that Matt and his mysteriously shady wing man, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who is said to be a former Mexican prosecutor, will tell their new recruit. She is informed on a suspicious, as-needed basis and it doesn’t take her long to figure out she’s in over her head, and these shadowy figures are using her because they need an FBI agent on the scene to cover their tracks legally and stay within the boundaries of the law. The plot that follows demands close attention but never becomes too difficult to follow. It involves multiple trips back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border as the agents attempt to use one high-ranking cartel boss (Bernardo Saracino) to capture an even bigger one (Julio Cesar Cedillo). For the most part, Kate and the audience are kept in the dark about the precise details of the mission, which are not revealed until the end. There are many superbly choreographed sequences such as one in particularly where the Americans cross in a huge caravan from El Paso to Ciudad Juarez, navigate through dicey neighborhoods in which naked mutilated bodies hang upside-down from an overpass, extract their prey from prison, then get stuck in horrendous traffic near the border crossing as menacing tattooed guys with guns emerge from a nearby car. It’s breathtakingly good filmmaking and illustrates the complex and insanely dangerous world Kate now inhabits.

    The cast is uniformly outstanding. Blunt’s performance is first-rate. She is an intensely admirable heroine whether she’s utterly in command in a raid, stunned by betrayal or simply trying sort out the facts of the case from its numerous fictions. With“Edge of Tomorrow” and now this role, Emily Blunt is a really credible action movie star, as formidable as she is feminine. In this movie, she’s the character who’s most often, and intentionally, kept in the dark about what’s going on but while she is clearly a capable, smart, resilient young woman, her genuine desire to help out is no match for the deceptions and barriers placed in her way. Every bit as impressive is Del Toro whose world-weary Alejandro is a deeply complicated character. He is a swift, unforgiving man with the calm demeanour of a predator lying in wait but who wakes screaming to nightmares in Kate’s presence. He is magnetic on screen, radiating pure danger and it is he who holds us rapt with a nearly silent but intense performance, lurking about the edges of the action for most of the story, and then springing into action in a handful of scenes that will leave you shaking. Brolin, too, is most engaging as the cocksure operations chief who bounces from laid-back to complete exuberance.

    “Sicario” delivers non-stop intensity and heart-pounding excitement and all elevated by terrific performances. It should be an all-around attraction for Oscar season. I can see Del Toro and Blunt in for a nod but also director Villeneuve and Roger Deakins for cinematography. Villeneuve and Roger Deakins worked brilliantly together on “Prisoners” and their collaboration here is equally great, with scenes ranging from vast deserts, cheap buildings to pale blue skies. There are also excellent aerial shots of the border, carefully framed close ups and some of the most impressive night-vision sequences I have ever seen. It’s also worth mentioning the perfectly apt score which adds to the unease. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan knows how to create tension with a taut and timely screenplay, and Villeneuve can certainly put those words into action through multiple brilliantly crafted and high octane set pieces sequences which will have you on the edge of your seat. The violence of the American drug trade is depicted as savage and startling but few movies made on the subject have been as powerful and superbly made as “Sicario”.

  • Randy

    Sicario is a tense and morally complex thriller with a central protagonist who happens to be female (it was difficult for the film to receive funding because the filmmakers wouldn’t change that) and is never objectified in any way. Even more so, the script is rather sparse but well-written, with Kate (Emily Blunt) finding out what she has gotten herself into, and what her new co-worker motivations are, just as we are. Benicio del Toro, having stripped his character of 90% of his dialogue is and unsettling cypher. If the awards bodies could only see that less is more…Rodger Deakins’ cinematography is truly evocative and Villeneuve’s direction evokes Fincher and Nolan, but remains refreshingly unique. Can’t wait to see more from him. Highly recommended. 4/5