Darker and more nuanced than your standard Hollywood crime thriller, Sicario explores the murky, lawless barbarism on both sides of the Mexican-American drug war. FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is brought into a makeshift government task force to help take down a major cartel kingpin hiding south of the border. The team is led by the cavalier Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), both of whom keep a frustrated Kate in the dark about where they are going and what they are doing throughout their mission. As she questions herself and her superiors more and more, Kate gets a firsthand look at the cesspool of corruption and violence in Mexico and the United States and finds out who the sicario, or hitman, is.
Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro give terrific performances, with Blunt executing a flawless American accent and del Toro brooding and being menacing with very few lines. As the naively idealistic Kate, Blunt’s natural features, free of any makeup or masked emotions, display her character’s unwillingness to back down from what she believes is right even when she is out of her depth. And as the moral centre of the film, Kate comes across as completely out of place in the amoral chaos of the drug war. Alejandro, who stays in the background for most of the film, eventually reveals himself as a having a bigger and more dangerous role in the operation than Kate initially thinks. Del Toro infuses his character with such tense, enthralling inscrutability that the viewer never knows what he may do. The wardrobe of his character, who is first seen in a stylish cream suit, later in blue tones, and finally in black ops gear, echoes the sinister revelations made about Alejandro himself over the course of Sicario. In the last, riveting scene, Kate is symbolically cast in white light while Alejandro sits in the shadows.
Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins craft a dark and artful mood for the film, with aerial shots of the sprawling city of Juárez and of the desert border that recall the stunning aesthetic of Breaking Bad. Aided by a fantastically ominous score, Sicario expertly handles gritty realism and thought-provoking themes in an unexpectedly stylish and disconcerting way. (Can’t wait to see what Villeneuve and Deakins do with the Blade Runner sequel!)
Rating: 5 out of 5 border-crossing tunnels