Denis Villeneuve makes me uncomfortable. I don't blame the man, it's his job after all. Whilst I rate his previous films Prisoners and especially Enemy, there's no denying that his films aren’t exactly “fun”, considering they intentionally pick at your nerves like banjo strings and damage your calm.
When it was released last year, Sicario seemed to fly under the radar for a lot of people. I missed it during its theatrical run and regretted it once I started seeing multiple sites and magazines calling it one of the best of the year. I rectified this grievous error as soon as the film hit disc.
Sicario (meaning “hitman” in Spanish) follows idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she is recruited by a secretive government task force, led by the unconventional flip-flop wearing Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), to help fight the escalating drug war on the border between the United States and Mexico. Along the way, she is introduced to the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a man with murky motives and unclear goals.
The cast are on point. Emily Blunt is a fantastic actress and does stellar work as Kate. There's a quiet, assured toughness to her that's utilised well. Josh Brolin was decent too.
From the off, it's clear that Matt isn't one to colour inside the lines when it comes to protocol and Brolin plays him with a sly, almost smirking glee. Star of the film for me was Benicio Del Toro. Apparently, his character had a fair bit of dialogue in the original script, but Del Toro pushed to err on the side of silence. It pays off hugely. Alejandro is an incredibly intimidating man. He's an intense presence throughout and I think it's a crime Del Toro wasn't given an Oscar nod for his performance.
The film's a technical masterpiece. Villeneuve controls the tone exceptionally well. You'll never relax into the film and he's the master of keeping you teetering on the edge of your seat. He teams with cinematographer Roger Deakins, a man known for making stuff look incredible. Despite some ugly subject matter, Sicario is a gorgeous film. Jóhann Jóhannsson's score also works well. It growls, pulses and generally makes you feel uneasy. It fits perfectly. Never will you experience a convoy as nerve-shredding as the one in this film.
Cards on the table time- I wasn't blown away by Sicario like I was expecting. It's very good, no arguments there, but something didn't quite push it into greatness territory. Every element such as the look, the acting, the soundtrack and the general feel of the film were working for me, but the story didn't feel up to scratch.
I liked Emily Blunt's character, but she seemed weirdly naïve for someone who is a trained FBI agent. She seemed to suffer lapses of common sense purely to move the story along. I kept questioning why she did certain things and it dragged me out of the film.
In the same ballpark, I get why her Fed partner Reggie (played by the awesome Daniel Kaluuya) was included, but at the same time his role in the whole thing frustrated me. He was basically an excuse for our heroine to verbalise some of her internal dialogue. When a character could be replaced by a diary, dictaphone or pet, you know they aren't essential to anything.
Make no mistake, Sicario's worth your time if you're odd like me and you like your films both pretty and unsettling. It earns a recommendation for Benicio Del Toro alone, but Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin do some fine work too.
This is top-notch filmmaking, I just wish it all hung together a little better. It's certainly not what I expected from a film that appeared on so many “Best of 2015” lists, but I can see why it did. I'm opposed to a Blade Runner sequel on principle, but the fact that both Villeneuve and Deakins are working on one makes me slightly excited and hopeful.
Ben Browne, The Popcorn Bucket