Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: Sicario

Image courtesy of Lionsgate.
The year's most nerve wracking movie isn't a horror film, but Denis Villeneuve's "Sicario," a deeply disturbing and intense drama that focuses on a battle between federal agents and cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border. There's a sense of unease that is first felt as a group of agents are seen descending on a home in the film's opening sequence that lasts through to the end when the film's lead character doesn't feel safe in her own home following an unsettling visit.

In the picture, Emily Blunt plays Kate, an idealistic federal agent whose specialty is kidnappings related to Mexican drug cartels. In the movie's first scene, she and her team find a house where one of the cartels has stored the decomposing bodies of numerous enemies or people who got in the way of its business.

Shortly thereafter, Kate is recruited to work with an elite - but shadowy - government task force led by an operative known only as Matt (Josh Brolin) and his cohort - a quiet, but frighteningly intense man, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who has more than a few unpleasant methods of getting people to talk to him.

"Sicario" is the type of thriller in which we watch a character with good intentions - in this case, Kate - getting in way over her head. She joins Matt and Alejandro's squad because she wants to get a shot at nabbing the men who murdered the people found in the house at the film's beginning, but she begins to question whether her squad's methods are legal or morally sound.

There's a particularly horrifying sequence toward the film's end when Alejandro, who has his own dark history with the cartels, catches up with a kingpin who wronged him in the past. And although Alejandro is technically supposed to be the good guy in the scene, his actions give Kate good reason to question what she has gotten herself into.

This is a very well-made film and the type of picture that was once referred to as a white knuckle thriller. And it works so well because Villeneuve, who directed the vastly underrated 2013 thriller "Prisoners" and the creepy "Enemy," is such a sure hand behind the camera. This is a filmmaker with talent to spare and his latest is very effective at creating a sense of unease.

The performances are also very worthy of praise, especially Blunt, whose work here represents a career best, as well as Brolin's portrayal of Matt, who appears to take a light approach to his work, but can get heavy when necessary. And as the mysterious and ruthless Alejandro, Del Toro creates a character nearly as scary as Javier Bardem's sinister Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men."

I'm not sure how accurately "Sicario" actually represents the war on drugs battling it out in the borders of U.S. and Mexico, but the picture is more of a thriller with topical themes than a - for lack of a better phrase - social problem film. It's grim, powerful and tense as well as further evidence that Villeneuve continues to distinguish himself among his generation of filmmakers.

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