Sicario is one of the most intense dramas that I have seen all year and I have seen a lot. The film may appear as an action film going by the way the posters look but trust me there is very little action in this one and yet it is one of the most consistently scaring and breathlessly tense films of the year. The film starts with our protagonist Kate Mercer(Emily Blunt) raiding a house in Phoenix looking for kidnap victims but instead she finds a house which has walls stacked up of dead and decaying bodies that may have been killings related to the drug trafficking racket running in the city. She is debriefed and quickly enlisted by Matt (Josh Brolin), a DOD advisor who then makes her accompany him to Juarez, a lawless land in Mexico where he is going to pick up an arrested gang member of the same cartel that may have been furthering their business on the American soil.
On flight she meets the mystical Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) who is also a DOD advisor and a specialist in cartel related matters. After some questionable conduct in Juarez, Mercer is forced to question the modus oparandi of Matt and Alejandro. They however silence her successfully and enlist her help in conducting one last operation that will restore balance in the cut throat world of drug trafficking. But as they go ahead with the operation, Mercer starts finding it difficult to differentiate the bad guys from the good guys as the fine line between good and evil is repeatedly trampled.
Sicario is intense from the word go. There isn’t a single scene where the viewer is allowed to breathe easy. There is a prolonged sequence from when Mercer starts off from the air base with Matt till the time she makes it back to American soil from Juarez which takes considerable time to unfold but these sequences are easily the most tense and captivating scenes of the film. The cinematography in these sequences are used as tools to transpose us to the hostile world that our heroes are a part of. The long takes of the topography with the vehicles gradually making their way into the city, the varied angles ranging from the third person view of the men on board the police vehicles, the close-ups of the men sitting in the car, shots from the perspective of the people in the town of Juarez are seamlessly edited to induce pulse pounding tension.
In the third act of the film, the character of Alejandro takes control of the screenplay. Through the first and the second act, the director builds up his character and in the 3rd act we actually get to know his motivations for doing what he is doing. His character is not only fleshed out but attains the kind of physicality that literally steamrollers every other character who crosses his path. The worst affected is Mercer. The manner in which he toys with her is sensational to watch. The last scene of the film shows us Alejandro literally threatening Mercer with a gun to get his job done. While this oppression makes us feel bad for the character of Mercer but more than that it makes us feel a sense of reverence for the character of Alejandro. Del Toro essays the part with such gusto and naturality that I was completely bowled over by his act.
The film’s story is simplistic and doesn’t have a great deal of twists and turns. But what makes this film special is the intense drama, the performances and the treatment. Josh Brolin is always a class act and he is no different here. Emily Blunt is the protagonist of the film but she is constantly over ridden by other characters. She tries to cope with the situations but every time she ends up on the receiving end. This nature and predicament adds a dash of believability to her character and makes us feel for her. She starts off as someone who is strong and kick-ass but in matter of scenes she is starts being bullied by her own team mates. This just goes on to show the might of the men that she is working with and thus adds to the heroics of character of Alejandro and even Matt in certain scenes.
I cannot praise enough the cinematography and editing of the film which in many sequences singlehandedly builds up the tension. The best example of this characteristic is the shootout sequence atop the bridge. However, I just couldn’t make sense of the decision to show prolonged sequence in the climax through the night vision goggles footage. It is good to look at for a few seconds but gets irritating all too quickly. Thus the climax does appear as a bit visually unsatisfying which is just unthinkable comparing the ravishing look that the film has all throughout. I also felt that the film does let out a considerable amount of steam in the third act. The good work done till the climatic final fight is somewhat undone, thanks to some hurried writing which could have been easily corrected. The film has minimalistic background score which serves it’s mood well.
Whatever little flaws that this film has are more than made up for by the bravura performances. I didn’t notice the flaws in the end until I had seen this film a few times and that was because I was so very overwhelmed by the performances, particularly that of Del Toro. Blunt’s submission to his strength only makes his persona that much more towering. Sicario is easily one of the most engrossing drams of 2015. Denis Villeneuve pulls off another cracker of a film. Like I said in my review of his film Prisoners, he is truly one of the master storytellers to look out for in the future. Each of his films has been radically different from the other and they have all been great. If Sicario is any indication, he is only getting better. I am really really excited to see what he comes up with next.