As the lights dim and the journey begins the BBFC certificate warns that Sicario contains “images of dead bodies”. And they’re not lying. The opening scene sets the grisly tone for Denis Villeneuve’s cartel thriller with a precise execution, as an FBI Kidnap Response Team storm an Arizona bungalow and makes a chilling discovery. Leading the squad is Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a dedicated field agent whose strong moral compass is about to become challenged by a new assignment, a shady cross-agency task force led by Department of Defense advisor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin).
From its forceful introduction through to its dramatic conclusion, Sicario is a film that keeps its cards close to its chest. What is the real objective of this mission? What secret is Matt Graver hiding behind his sly smile? Who is his partner Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) and what is the source of his nightmares? Kate is given as little information as the audience as the story unravels, minimal clues are sparsely scattered and left for us to fill in the mysterious blanks. This is an exceptionally crafted example of a true thriller, one that carefully cultivates a thick atmosphere of tension across its entire 2 hours.
Working alongside cinematographer Roger Deakins, Villeneuve looks to produce a film with a gripping visual appeal that matches its narrative weight and absolutely succeeds. His close style of direction and slow, deliberate camera movements elevate the cloak-and-dagger haze that hangs over the story. The depth of emotion that Villeneuve can explore within a seemingly inert shot is masterful. A tale of individual motivations and personal insignificance, Sicario dances between detailed study of its characters’ nuances and the intimidating expanse of the world around them, stunning aerial sequences capturing the vastness of Arizona’s deserts or the dangerous urban sprawl of Juarez. Johann Jóhannsson’s foreboding score is employed sparingly, its dark tone lurching into play when the heavy silence that hangs over most scenes becomes too oppressive.
Emily Blunt gives a measured performance as the agent trying to survive in “the land of wolves”, out of her depth and unsure of what she’s got herself involved with. While she provides a solid focal point, it is Benicio Del Toro that steals the limelight, his dark eyes full of vengeance and sorrow. Brolin’s cunning smile and deceptive innocence is well-played (though his character remains relatively unexplored, a shame considering his magnetic appeal) but Del Toro’s enigmatic persona is a stroke of brilliance.
If this display of power and depth (and previous films Prisoners and Enemy) are anything to go by, the upcoming Blade Runner sequel is safe in the hands of Denis Villeneuve; continuing on his current form would easily secure him as one of the great directors of the modern age. Sicario is an absolute triumph of a film, a thriller that improves on every viewing, beautiful to behold and gripping to the very end.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Sicario is on wide release in UK & US Cinemas now.