Last time we saw director Denis Villeneuve, he delivered the dull, dreary, and directionless “Enemy,” a film that was more content to wallow about in its own ambiguity rather than explore its mysterious and engaging tale. Now he returns with the thriller “Sicario,” a film that is much more grounded and focused on the story at hand, a story that feels as though it could very well happen in this day and age of vast drug markets, corrupt officials, and agents willing to bend the law to suit their own needs. It’s realism like this that only adds fuel to the fire of a narrative that will keep you on your toes as you try to decipher what it is that’s really going on.
Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent who is currently trying to defuse a hostage situation.
During the raid in which her team discovers several corpses in the walls of a house, a bomb goes off in the yard, killing two of the officers involved. Shortly after, she is recommended by her boss to join a special team headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a team that would try to track down the men responsible. Of course, Kate jumps at this chance and volunteers to join them. Along the way, she meets Matt’s partner, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), and discovers that they are going to Mexico to help extract someone who is high up in the drug cartel they are investigating. They are successful, but not without incident. After an intense interrogation, they are able to learn a lot, including the location of an important hideout, but this is merely one step in the quest for their mysterious ultimate goal, a goal that might not be as clear-cut as it seems.
“Sicario” is a well-done thriller that takes it’s time in telling its tale of the fight to bring down a drug cartel. It’s the kind of telling that comes with advantages and disadvantages in that, on the one hand, it doesn’t feel rushed as it goes about filling us in on the story piece by piece, but on the other, it also makes the film engaging in spurts. The main idea in including a kept-in-the-dark character like Kate Macer is to have the audience identify with her as we try to discover the truth about what’s really happening in this investigation, but for those portions in which we don’t know what’s going on, and during which the story isn’t advancing, it does drag a little as you wait for it to pick back up.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t have plenty of engaging parts, many of which place the characters in deadly danger for thrilling sequences like the opening raid, the heart-pounding extraction of a criminal from Mexico, and the mesmerizing climax where the last phase of the plan is played out. For every part of the film that feels like it’s holding up the plot, there’s another that comes back very strong to deliver on the film’s potential. True, the film follows a kind of repetitive formula: Mercer is filled in on what’s happening, which in turn fills us in, thus allowing the story to move forward, but there’s no denying that the film still delivers where it counts, with keen direction from Villeneuve and marvelous cinematography from one of the best DPs in the business, Roger Deakins (don’t be surprised if this film marks his 13th Oscar nomination, and as the ongoing joke goes, his 13th loss).
There’s also plenty to admire about the performances here, including a fine turn from Emily Blunt as the agent who wants revenge, but wants to do it right. Josh Brolin also turns in a decent performance as the mysterious leader of this team (we’re never quite sure who he’s with until the end), who has no problem speaking bluntly, a trait that Brolin pulls of particularly well. However, most will probably take special note of Benicio Del Toro’s subdued, yet powerful, performance as Graver’s partner, who seems to have more invested in this investigation than Macer realizes. Del Toro has a knack for these understated, yet intense performances that leave a long-lasting impression in the mind of the moviegoer, so it’s not really a surprise to see that he knocks this one out of the park as well, especially with the material he is given.
What we’re left with is a film that is, for the most part, exciting and engaging, peppered with an excellent cast, and is technically very well made. It may not be a film that you remember much of in the long term, but it still provides plenty of thrills that just might have you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see how the numerous deadly encounters turn out, and all that’s on top of a mystery in which you’re never really sure what the end game is truly supposed to be. It may have its share of downtime, but with so much in its favor, it’s hard not to walk away satisfied.
"Sicario” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of remarkable quality. The picture is perfectly sharp, which allows Deakins’ amazing camerawork to shine through quite nicely. The Dolby Atmos audio is also flawless, giving you all elements of the soundtrack from the dialogue to Johann Johannsson’s pounding score in excellent quality. Overall, there’s not a single complaint to be found regarding the incredible treatment that the film has received.
Stepping Into Darkness (17 Minutes): An interesting exploration of the film’s visuals, including the storyboards and the locations.
Blunt, Brolin & Benicio (14 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at the film’s characters through interviews with the cast and crew.
Battle Zone (14 Minutes): A featurette that focuses on the background for the film’s story.
A Pulse from the Desert (6 Minutes): A brief look at Johann Johannsson’s score.
“Sicario” may have a lot of downtime as it slowly unravels its plot, but it more than makes up for it with plenty of thrills, a fine ensemble, and excellent work from cinematographer Roger Deakins. It certainly helps that the story has you guessing about everyone’s intentions right up until the very end, helping to relieve some of those moments where there’s not much happening to advance the narrative. It’s not the kind of film you’re going to recall much of a few days later, but there's plenty here to make it a journey worth taking at least once.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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