Magazine article Screen International

'Sicario': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Sicario': Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Denis Villeneuve. US, 2015, 121 mins.

Sicario is an ambush, a low-slung film about a dirty drugs war with Mexico which challenges and engages in equal measure. It moves with grim tenacity, confounding expectations until its very final sequence. Confronting the war on drugs in a way which is cinematic, but far from superficial, Sicario – cartel slang for 'hitman' - is very dark, but it's also exciting. This is rock-solid, up-scale filmmaking from Canada's Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Incendies), a director of growing prowess who straddles the arthouse and the multiplex comfortably here.

Rather than hark back to Traffic - both share a star in Benicio del Toro - Taylor Sheridan's screenplay delivers a satisfyingly-complicated Heart of Darkness voyage for Emily Blunt as an FBI operative brought onside by CIA huntsmen who have their sights set on bigger game. Sicario is a throwback to the "enemy within" stream of post-Watergate thrillers from The China Syndrome on to Missing, all of which looked at the black hole at the centre of democratic accountability.

Sicario should engage both audiences and awards voters through Lionsgate, which is releasing US and UK on September 18 as an awards calling card. The film's biggest surprise is the main female character, played by Emily Blunt, who defies expectations. Lulled by Blunt's star power and sympathetic, stripped-down performance, audiences will feel secure in her upright FBI agent, thinking they know her arc; principled, uncomprehending, she's in this battle over her head. It's a tough role for Blunt. Information is withheld to the point where the plot's credibility sways in the balance, and she has the thankless task of embodying American naivety to breaking point. She pulls it off.

Villeneuve is a skilful director of set pieces. Sicario has a difficult, fragmented plot to sustain, with the viewer in the dark and only slowly emerging into a half-light. The director deals the information out slowly via two extended, tense action threads which occupy the first 40 minutes of Sicario's running time.

The first, introductory sequence involves a raid led by Blunt's FBI agent Kate Macy, the head of a kidnap response team, on booby-trapped house in Chandler, Arizona where the remains of 42 cartel kidnap victims are found bricked into the wall. This leads, seemingly organically, to Blunt being selected by Defence Department contractor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to join an inter-agency task force aimed at decapitating the Sonora Cartel serpent via its US operation. …

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