VOD film review: Sicario
Ivan Radford | On 03, Feb 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Blistering is a word that’s used all too often for modern action flicks. Sicario more than earns it.
Denis Villeneuve’s thriller follows an FBI agent who finds herself recruited by a US task force to fight in the war against drugs. The plan? Extradite one guy, so that he ends up flushing out the man at the top of the chain. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a Michael Mann film 10 years ago – but Villeneuve takes that style and gives it an added modern punch.
Where the Heat director might have given us a tale of an existential loner, probably a man, fighting an enemy with single-minded resolve, our hero here is Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer, and she questions everything around her, from Josh Brolin’s senior agent, Matt, to enigmatic consultant Alejandro (Del Toro). The black and white of action cinema past is long gone. In its place? A sea of possible corruption and stoney-faced officials; Miami Vice filtered through the post-9/11 lens of Zero Dark Thirty.
The tone is set by a thrilling opening sequence, which sees Kate and her team raid a home – by driving a truck through the wall. There’s a gripping immediacy to it, which makes it clear that today’s good guys will go to any extremes to get the bad guys. Villeneuve highlights those shades of grey with splatters of blood in a string of impeccably crafted set pieces: a night-time patrol is so black it looks unnervingly alien, while a central segment on a motorway is a contender for the tensest traffic jam in cinema history. Car chases? Who needs car chases?
The violence, though, is never gratuitous, as the script smartly drives suspense from the suspicious supporting cast. Superb turns from Jon Bernthal and Psychoville’s Daniel Kaluuya (a British star whose rise deserves more attention) flesh out the ensemble, filling every exchange with uncertainty. Del Toro and Brolin provide a manly grounding presence, one a brick wall and the other menacingly hard to read, but Blunt is better than both. After Edge of Tomorrow, she again proves herself to be an action lead with real charisma, spending the whole runtime racing to understand what’s going on without her lack of knowledge becoming a weakness.
A delightfully oppressive score from Jóhann Jóhannson – all ear-jangling drums and strings – is matched by the movie’s stellar visuals. Legendary DoP Roger Deakins shoots events with an epic widescreen frame that gives weight to the intense close-ups of Blunt, Brolin and – as the plot unravels – Benicio. All the while, the saturated landscapes and shootouts brutally blur the line between justice and revenge, between criminals and criminal investigation. Corpses are stashed in walls. Killers dance in clubs. Cartels lurk in plain sight. Pressing ahead at a non-stop pace, the ruthlessness itself becomes part of the film’s overriding character – a breathtaking, pulse-pounding ride through moral ambiguity. Sicario isn’t just blistering. It has blisters on its blisters.