Bleak. Gritty. Raw. Realistic. Gripping. There are at least two dozen adjectives that can be properly applied to describe Sicario, the latest film from Denis Villeneuve. Once again teaming up with cinematographer Roger Deakins, as he did in the excellent movie Prisoners, the results are staggeringly excellent.
Emily Blunt portrays “Kate Macer” who is the leader of an FBI kidnap/response team. The film opens as she and her team storm a house near Phoenix where they believe a drug cartel is holding some hostages. What they find is far more alarming. In the aftermath, Kate’s partner “Reggie Wayne” (Daniel Kaluuya) is slightly injured in a massive explosion. In the aftermath of the discovery of what was concealed within the walls of this house, senior FBI officials meet with outside “consultants” one of whom is “Matt Garver” (Josh Brolin). Describing himself as a “DOD consultant, he wants Kate to be seconded to a team he is assembling to try to get to the head of the cartel believed responsible for the house of horrors in Arizona.
Not sure why she is there, and forced to go without her partner at first, Kate meets “Alejandro Gillick” (Benecio del Toro) who has taken a very interesting path to wind up as part of Garver’s operation. His team, along with members of the Army’s elite Delta Force, go to Mexico to bring back a prisoner who was being held by the Mexican government. He is related to one of the leaders of the cartel and they intend to get some info from him that will lead them right up the ladder to the top. As Garver puts it, “to stir things up.”
Reggie is brought in eventually and he and Kate go along on another operation, this one to penetrate the border through a secret tunnel. They don’t know the real reason why they are there and that just intensifies Kate’s frustration with the entire situation.
This is one of those movies where there are no real heroes. Just as in the real-life situation in our nation’s relentless and to this point, futile, war on drugs. The truth is that for all the busts we see portrayed at the border on “reality” television, massive quantities of illicit drugs continue to pour over our border and this is a rare film that manages to capture this truth. The action ebbs and flows in a perfect mix with the attempt of Kate to find out why she is involved and what exactly she is involved in doing.
The best part of this film is the outstanding cinematography work of the brilliant Roger Deakins. Nominated 12 times for an Academy Award for his work in cinematography, I hope that the 13th time will be charmed for him. The film is completely engrossing, particularly in one scene as the team is about to cross the border from Mexico back into the United States. Seldom has so much tension been generated by nondescript cars crawling in a very congested piece of highway.
Emily Blunt gives a very strong turn as a tough FBI agent who like every human being, does have a breaking point. The rest of the cast is also excellent and while the script and story aren’t perfect, the minimal flaws are not worth further discussion. This film is a winner.