Sicario is a highly ambitious crime thriller with some highly intriguing elements, including tonal and psychological shifts, as well as an interesting commentary on violence and moral dilemma presented between its characters. The method of storytelling, specifically Director Denis Villenueve’s emphasis on mystery and suspense, draw divisive results, but it’s ultimately a rewarding experience to take part in the film’s stronger sequences and shifts in plot.
With a growing conflict brewing on the U.S.-Mexican border, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) takes part on a raid in Arizona, with the intention of finding more clues about the Mexican drug cartel. Following a violent exchange, Macer is recruited by a mysterious governmental agent (Josh Brolin) who’s intending on busting the biggest drug lords across Mexico and ending the cycle of violence that’s transpired. Teamed with a mysterious Mexican agent (Benicio del Toro), Macer is led into the heart of one of the most dangerous areas in the world, a stranger without a friend who’s quickly caught in way over her head.
Denis Villenueve creates an incredibly intense environment within the film, and the palpable tension is one of the best aspects of the film. It’s a sign of a great filmmakers when he’s able to create tension without giving the audience a reason, intrigue them without giving any answers, and setting up an uneasiness that’s more powerful than the plot. The tension explodes in some of the film’s key scenes, and two sequences at the film’s beginning are particularly effective. In fact, the mystery of the entire film, and the attention to detail that Villenueve sets up help guide it through it’s weaker story points.
Most of the issues with Sicario are present within its second act. There’s a fair amount of mystery, and while some of it is resolved, it’s difficult as an audience member to be in the dark for so long. When the eventual plot twists are revealed, they hold less weight, as the lack of explanation for the events of the film leave the audience expecting some sort of elaborate explanation. While the shift from procedural intrigue evolves into a morality based thriller at the dawn of the third act could feel jarring, Villenueve pulls it off relatively well without feeling uneven.
Perhaps the most exciting, and ultimately most divisive element of the film is its third act, where revelations are made and the heart of Villenueve’s commentary on violence is revealed. There are points in which the film is borderline preachy, specifically in the last scene, but the character resolutions are particularly effective, and the story feels both self-contained and part of a bigger world.
The performances are also a highlight of the film. Emily Blunt is fantastic in the lead role, and while their are elements of her background left undeveloped, her natural charisma as an a actress drives much of the film. The strongest performance in the film is that of Benicio del Toro, who adds mystery and intensity to each of scenes. Josh Brolin is also very good, though his character does feel secondary overall.
Sicario is worth seeing simply to be part of the conversation, and while there are certainly issues, the film concludes too well to be ignored. It’s a psychological and mentally challenging film, and a one that will spark discussions in the following. Grade: B+