OP-ROB RATING: LEGEND
In Mexico, Sicario is a word for hitman, it is also the title for Denis Villeneuve’s latest film. The majority of “Sicario” takes place in arid places where law and order has dried up along with the water. Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent specializing in kidnappings who has just led a raid on a house in Arizona filled wall to wall (literally) with bloody corpses. The raid also resulted in the untimely death of two police officers. In order to exact revenge on the men responsible, she agrees to get onboard with a Department of Defense joint operation with Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his steely eyed colleague Alejandro (Benicio del Toro). A complete outsider to the inner workings of the cartel, Kate asks Alejandro if there is anything she should know, his response is, “You’re asking me how a clock works. For now let’s just keep an eye on the time.” The first stop for the group is in El Paso, Texas, where they link up with a team of Delta Force soldiers and a few Texan Deputies. Before she has time to think, Kate is strapped into a bullet-proof vest and driven across the border into Ciudad Juarez where she gets her first full dose of harsh realities surrounding the Mexican cartel.
Silence is the defining element in “Sicario”. The majority of the film is accompanied solely by diegetic sound, loud noises are sparse in between conflicts. As a result, moments of gunfire sound louder, and feel more intense. The background music in the film comes from the award-winning composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Denis Villeneuve only cues the music when a scene is being built up. The moments of greatest suspense occur when people are allowed to just stare at each other, or sign a piece of paper in complete silence. This style of filmmaking is such a far cry from most action movies released today that are so noisy in their entirety, and boy is it refreshing. The quiet scenes allow time to think about the potent message that “Sicario” delivers.
In a scene near the end of the movie, a group of soldiers (including Kate, Matt and Alejandro) descend a hill into hostile territory. The silhouettes of armor clad operatives get consumed by the blackness against the backdrop of a beautiful desert sunset. As far as the audience is concerned, there are two worlds that exist in “Sicario”, one is defined by law and procedure, and the other by competition and havoc. Each has a measure of justice that must be exacted. “Sicario” brings into question the means by which order is achieved in the darkness.
Josh Brolin turns in a familiar performance as Matt Graves, a smug Texan reminiscent of Llewelyn Moss from the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece “No Country for Old Men”. Benicio del Toro is equally convincing as Alejandro, a poised assassin with knack for interrogations and a surprising amount of depth. Emily Blunt delivers an inspired performance as an embattled idealist. Her character, Kate, must either come to terms with unforgiving realities or cling to her principles in the face of certain death. One of the secondary characters in “Sicario” is a corrupt Mexican cop named Silvio (Maximiliano Hernández). In most action thrillers, Silvio wouldn’t have a backstory, he would simply serve his role as a nameless bad guy. In “Sicario” however, Silvio is not only given a name but also a home, a wife and a son. The audience is given a window to see what his life is like in the small town of Nogales. For a movie essentially titled “hitman”, this complexity is surprising. “Sicario” is a complex, intense, and culturally important film that isn’t afraid to test the boundaries of the war on drugs. It is the best film I have seen so far this year.