Posted under: Reviews
Back in 2013, Denis Villeneuve made a sparkling debut with the phenomenal thriller Prisoners. It was a tough film to follow on from but he managed to do it with last year's incredible Enemy. Now, the director's latest project, Sicario, has arrived but can Villeneuve continue his winning streak?
Yes, is the answer. A whopping big yes. Villeneuve's success streak continues, with yet another stunner of a film. Ever since his astounding Prisoners, a couple of years back (one of my favourite thrillers in recent memory), I've been intrigued to see what this director does next. Then, he released Enemy and it was complex, compelling and brilliant - instantly landing the director as one of my current favourites. For primarily this reason, Sicario has been one of my most anticipated films of 2015 and, despite having probably over-hyped this, it still delivered. This is a sharp, cutting-edge, white knuckle drama that brings a whole new meaning to the words dark, gritty and thriller. It's a tightly-wound drama that will reel you in wrap around you like a snake, choking you until your ribs are broken and your lungs collapsed, leaving you gasping for breath, dripping with sweat, not knowing what has hit you.
The plot of the film is fairly simple. After a drug raid gone wrong, idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recrtuited by the bubbly government official Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and tasked to join the escalating war on drugs. In an attempt to bring down cartel boss Manuel Diaz (Bernardo P. Saracino), the team - led by the mysterious Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro) - head across the Mexican border and try to loacte a tunnel leading them right to the location of the drug operation. However, as the search progresses, Macer begins to realise that she can't trust anyone as the line between right and wrong begins to blur.
The first thing to note about Villeneuve's third outing is that this isn't your typical thriller fare. Whilst the premise may sound like pretty expected genre medium, Sicario is anything but. For starters, this film is dark. There is no hope or shred of happiness whatsoever throughout the 121 minute runtime. There's nothing to root for. Prisoners was dark; Enemy was dark; but Denis takes things to a new level with Sicario. Right from the off-set, this is made evident as we begin with a haunting sequence featuring dead bodies and dispair. Lots of them too. And we're only five minutes in. This is a film that gets under your skin and will make you feel dirty and grimy. However, contrary to how it may sound, that's not a bad thing. In an industry dominated by happy endings and contrived idealism, this is the needle in the haystack and a very welcomed (and quite rare nowadays) change of mood and atmosphere.
Of course, Sicario is a very honest look at the drug war - which, indeed, isn't all fluffy and easy at all. What I love about this film is its audacity to never shy away from the truth. It's very real. It's dark. It's honest too. It shows us a side of this world we never imagined existed and that everything is never quite what it seems. In a sense, it's an eye-opener and makes us appreciate the fact that our lives are so easy in comparison. It's brutally raw. There's decapitated bodies hanging in the street, dead bodies stuffed in bags hidden in walls, mention of children being thrown into acid. Villeneuve certainly knows how to make an impact. He's a masterful artist when it comes to creating tension and he does it so perfectly here. This us an anxiety-inducing, adrenaline-fueled picture and will have you on the edge of your seat. The final act of this film alone is worth praise; one of the best, most suspenseful finales ever. Villeneuve has become an aficionado for the thriller genre, the same way that Ridley Scott is for the sci-fi genre or Tarantino is for the hard-action genre.
The characters themselves are at the heart of Sicario though. There's not quite a set protagonist, as there isn't an antagonist. In this film, everyone has a dark side. You don't know who to trust. You have an idea that some people may not be who they claim to be yet you're never quite sure and the film spends it's time revealing all the dark secrets. Deceit and distrust is inevitable. You don't quite know who to root for because there's never really anyone to root for. Arguably, it's Emily Blunt's innocent Kate Macer yet it's hard to say whether or not even she came out unscathed from the brutality of Juarez. The performances are remarkable. The aforementioned actress is astonishing. In a film so dominated by males, Blunt is a force to be reckoned with. She represents the viewer; so innocent and confused when first thrown into the cartel war - just wanting to do what's right. Josh Brolin is incredible too, as always. The actor always brings a lot to his projects. However, it's Benecio Del Toro that steals the show. He's officially cool again. His stone-cold Alejandro is intimidating and ruthless. His eyes and actions show no emotion and he doesn't even need many words to show he is an imposing body. It's his best work in years. In fact, it's some of Brolin and Blunt's best work in years too - as Prisoners was for Gyllenhaal and Jackman. Villeneuve certainly knows how to get the best out of his cast.
If there's a flaw with Sicario, it's that for about 20 minutes or so - towards the middle act - the film really slows down to a gruelling pace. Hardly anything happens during the time period, and is merely there for character building and to set something up (if you've seen the film, you'll know what I'm talking about). In a movie that is so fast-paced and intense, it really feels out of place. It's not that the scene isn't entertaining though as the exchanges between Blunt and her counterparts is engaging enough to hold our attention but it's never quite as poignant as the rest of the film. However, it's really just a small thing and most won't even notice due to how enthralling the piece is. Sicario is a fine cinematic achievement; action-packed, intense and bloody good. The resounding score is a stunner too and the jaw-dropping cinematography is utterly beautiful, so natural and captured so perfectly. The purple skies illuminate the screen; the golden shots of Mexico are so crisp; the night is so elegant yet terrifying and all natural too. It only adds to the reasons that this is a breathtaking, visceral and thoroughly entertaining and epic piece of art.
Denis Villeneuve has triumphed yet again, with the dark, brutal and utterly astounding Sicario: a tour de force of a thriller and unarguably one of the best films of the year.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.