“You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.”
It’s been over a month now since I’ve seen this film and it has stuck with me in a way few films have this year. Denis Villeneuve is a talented director who knows how to build the right atmosphere for his movies. Sicario is all about tone and atmosphere. We’ve seen the premise of this film done to death, but somehow Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan manage to tell a familiar story in a very unique way. The success of Sicario isn’t that it has a unique premise or a fantastic twist, but that it manages to tell a familiar story in such a captivating way with some of the best performances of the year. Sicario will be included in my list of the best films of 2015 without a doubt, and it is a must see for movie fans around the globe. Emily Blunt continues to expand her acting career with another brilliant performance although its Benicio de Toro who will get all the accolades for getting the stronger dramatic material to work with.
The film has the best opening sequence by far in a movie released this year as we are introduced to Emily Blunt’s character, Kate Macer, who is leading a SWAT team across an Arizona desert and into a house where they suspect to find one of the Mexican cartel leaders, but end up finding much more than what they bargained for. Kate is a tough DEA agent who is determined to bring down the Mexican cartel. Once they arrive back at the station she is introduced to Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver, a superior who wants her assistance in catching the cartel leader who was responsible for the events that unfolded at the house. Graver has a suave persona, he may be in charge of the operation but he seems laid back with his flip flops and cargo pants. His right hand man is much more silent and mysterious. It’s Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro, who certainly seems menacing and is hiding something underneath his calmed demeanor. He is evidently a man who has seen and experienced a lot of things in life. Kate accepts the mission despite not being fully informed of what she must do and she becomes a surrogate for the audience as she tries to understand what these men are up to just as we do. Villeneuve keeps the audience hooked and engaged while taking us through the Mexican border an back again with some magnificent cinematography from Roger Deakins. Sicario is a brilliant film that maintains the tension throughout its entire runtime. My only complaint is that the second half isn’t as strong as the first.
Sicario is a film that should receive several nominations come Award time and I can’t see how Del Toro won’t be nominated for his superb supporting performance here. Although I must say that Brolin and Blunt are equally deserving for their work. Blunt is much more subtle in her approach as she has to adapt to this masculine dominated world and is constantly left in the loop of things. Brolin plays a character that he could play in his sleep with his suave and cool exterior, but he does it so well that it’s hard not to sympathize with him. Del Toro is menacing and his turn as Alejandro will be one of the most memorable characters of the year. He has some great scenes. It’s hard to avoid some comparisons with Zero Dark Thirty, especially the way some of the scenes were shot and how it focuses (although in a very different way) on two strong motivated female characters who are determined to accomplish their goal in a masculine run world. It also happens to be a very intelligent thriller that manages to tell a familiar story in a fresh way. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes the difference and in Sicario Villeneuve manages to craft an engaging work of art. This is the Zero Dark Thirty of war on drug films.