Denis Villeneuve’s critically acclaimed 2015 thriller stars Emily Blunt as FBI agent Kate Macer who joins a special task force, headed by the charismatic Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), working to find an influential Cartel leader and to put an end to the increasing hostilities along the US/Mexico border. However, she soon starts questioning exactly why she is there and realises that the people that she’s working with may well have their own secret agendas.
At the heart of this film is the wonderful Emily Blunt and she is . . . well, wonderful. She is essentially the only female in a film full of men and this is skilfully made clear towards the beginning where she finds herself as something of a fish out of water, in a room surrounded by incredibly macho, muscled guys with guns, sharing private jokes and generally acting too cool for school. Blunt is a confident lead and her character is certainly interesting; basing her character on a certain FBI agent that she met in preparation for the role, Blunt’s Macer is right in the middle between damsel-in-distress and ballsy, kick-ass warrior, namely: human.
She is a credible, believable character who doesn’t conform to any stereotype; she is strong and capable but with basic human flaws and weaknesses. She is also very idealistic and her commitment to doing the right thing is what keeps us supporting her; we truly wonder how she will cope when surrounded by “wolves”, as Alejandro puts it. Plus, she isn’t exactly the most ladylike character, wearing the same unkempt grey t-shirt for a great deal of the film and apparently only owning a single bra; of course, this adds greatly to her credibility and humanity.
Del Toro’s Alejandro is also an engaging supporting character, not saying an awful lot, but still looking effortlessly cool, stylish and having a certain mysterious aura. Interestingly, his character actually had 90% more speech, in which he explained his background and motivations. Director Villeneuve smartly changed all of this and cut much of his dialogue; this was clearly a smart move as it ensures that his purpose isn’t spoon-fed to us and it leaves the audience to use their own imagination and to fill in the blanks themselves.
Taylor Sheridan’s script is excellent, one of the main draws of this film. The dialogue is taut and intelligent and the twist, introduced about two thirds of the way in, is unexpected and truly shocking.
Music is used sparingly in Sicario but when it is heard, it is exemplary. One scene in particular stood out for me; it’s when the characters travel down to Juarez and the city is shown from an aerial shot. Accompanying this is the music: a heavy, relentless dirge which very cleverly suggests that the city is some kind of giant beast, a dangerous leviathan that needs to be slain. This piece of music perfectly captures a sense of dread and greatly adds to the tension.
Sicario is also visually stylish and contains some beautiful landscapes as well as sleek, polished shots elsewhere. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the DOP was the great Roger Deakins, a Coen Brother regular.
It’s not a perfect film though, as I found the first half to be far too leisurely and I don’t think that the film didn’t quite hit the ground running until after the first hour. But even with this, the second half makes up for it and when all is finally revealed, what happened at the start of the film makes so much more sense.
A stylish, intelligently written thriller with great central performances, especially from Blunt and Del Toro.
★ ★ ★ ★