By Thomas Simpson
Denis Villeneuve’s crime thriller Sicario delves into the murky and dangerous domain of the South American drug cartels. The lines are blurred between cop and criminal as the book is thrown out the window with justice delivered by unconstitutional means.
During a kidnapping raid, FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) discovers dozens of corpses hidden within the walls of a house. Initially shocked and repulsed, Mercer has little time to absorb what’s happened before an IED goes off, killing two officers. Observant of her work, Mercer’s boss recommends her to CIA SAD officer Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) who is leading an operation into finding the men responsible. Driven and enthusiastic, Mercer volunteers. When her team is attacked at the Mexican border, a shootout ensues which puts civilian lives in danger. Shaken by the incident, Mercer begins to have doubts about the shadowy and questionable world she has thrown herself into.
Sicario is a well-crafted and slow burning thriller that gradually increases the tension with each scene. The threat of violence is never far away as Mercer becomes more vulnerable the deeper she falls down the rabbit hole. Blunt is brilliant as the idealistic FBI agent, portraying a strong and ambitious character that’s not without her fragility. Mercer is a fish out of water in a world she’s not cut out for. However it’s not because she isn’t tough enough, instead her moral compass has her questioning Graver and his partner Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro).
Graver may be on the side of the good guys here but his arrogant swagger drips of political sleaze. His charisma is showcased by Brolin yet that’s a smile of a man you’d be dubious about buying a used car from. It’s del Toro that steals each and every scene he’s in, commanding the attention of the audience with as little as a look. Gillick is a mysterious figure and del Toro gives nothing away about the complexity of his character’s depth until required. The family dinner he interrupts in the third act will be one of the most suspenseful and shocking scenes you’ll see this year, capping off a truly magnificent performance by del Toro.
As the credits roll it’s hard to feel the surface of Sicario has barely been scratched. The ending has a nihilistic resolution but this isn’t a black and white story and in turn doesn’t deserve to be wrapped up in a neat little blow. This is a snapshot of a greater world, a horrific glimpse into a drug war where the rules are bent to ensure order is maintained. Highly recommended.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy 41.