Directed by Denis Villaneuve
There exists a niche in the film industry for politically motivated, "true story" films that lean towards action and thrill. Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Traffic, Green Zone... Some are pretty good, and some are only good because they have political undertones... Sicario is pretty good.
Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) has led an FBI tactical team for 5 years, with the main objective of rescuing people who have been kidnapped or are being held hostage. Operating largely out of Phoenix, her most recent operation uncovered drug cartel affiliations. Matt, a CIA operative (Josh Brolin), takes notice of Kate and asks if she'd like to help him track down the people in charge; Kate volunteers, setting a joint-task force operation in motion, starting with a prisoner exchange over the border between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Matt's foreign associate, Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), gives information and assistance, and proves to be efficient and ruthless. As their operation continues Matt, Kate, and Alejandro (and eventually Kate's partner at the FBI, Reggie, played by Daniel Kaluuya) uncover a trail of information that helps them track down cartel bosses and set off a chain of events that leads to a crooked cop trying to kill Kate, Kate uncovering a conspiracy, and Alejandro showing what a bad-ass he is.
With a stunning performance from del Toro and a believably relaxed yet badass portrayal from Brolin, Sicario seems only to suffer from mediocre acting from Blunt. Kate Macer, despite being an experience tactical operator, seems to fumble through scenes with a look of permanent bewilderment on her face. Yes, she's young and idealistic, and therefore naive, but as a character she's also a simple plot device. As much as Matt, the CIA advisor, uses her in order to operate on American soil, Villaneuve and Taylor Sheridan, the writer, use Kate as a means to move from plot point to plot point and to reveal information whenever it serves the story. Consistently inconsistent, Blunt never appeared to be a tactical field agent for the FBI; despite being cast as a tough-as-nails female lead with 5 years of experience in the field, she only comes across as a typical damsel in distress who happens to carry a gun.
As much as Sheridan's story tries desperately to make Sicario investigative and hard-hitting, the story ends up being almost entirely plot driven, moving between plot points with conveniently timed droplets of information from one character to another to move things along. Although Kate's 'discovery' of a CIA-run conspiracy involving drug cartels is used to turn the story into a mysterious political thriller, it doesn't quite get there. So if you were expecting some hard-hitting investigatory techniques... well technically you get that, in the form of yet another jab at the CIA's approval of torture, but besides that, it's just a string of stumbling upon information and tension.
But that brings us to, probably, the best part. Effervescently tense, Sicario is more thrilling and suspenseful than many movies that are meant specifically to be that. While the movie was meant to be a thriller, it has its fair share of action and drama as well, but the thrill, the mystery, the suspense, the atmosphere... There is no better description for it than gripping tension. With Roger Deakins' magical photography, a combination of slow, birds-eye shots and dogged following shots amid a relentless score create a literally heart-pounding mood. Effective. Beautiful.
While it's not a fantastic political thriller, and it's not a fantastic drama, and it's not a fantastic action movie, it's a good combination of all three, with a decently satisfying story and a bad-ass hitman to round it out. This is a modern action movie, with all of the expected doses of political intrigue and jabs at the CIA's subterfuge, in that it builds slowly, takes time with exposition, but explodes into a fever pitch of action before settling down for some more slow and steady plot-building elements before exploding yet again.
TL;DR: While it's definitely far from the best movie I've ever seen, Sicario is more entertaining than most; it's brutal, gripping, and tense. I can't emphasize the tension enough. It's loud, and it's silent, and it's fast, and it's slow, and the story could be better, and the main character is annoying, but I still like it.
- Acting – 16 / 20
- Story – 14 / 20
- Cinematography – 18 / 20
- Soundtrack – 7 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 7 / 10
- Crime/Thriller – 8 / 10
- Other – 7 / 10