Sicario: Taut, Tense and Tortured (Review)

Thrumming, strident and evocative of the “train” sound emitted by the surrounding native contingent in the 1964 film Zulu, or a rhythmic overbalanced bass emanating from a woofer one step from shaking itself to death, Sicario begins with a soundtrack guaranteed to elevate the viewer’s adrenaline levels.

Emily Blunt as Kate Macer

Thrumming, strident and evocative of the “train” sound emitted by the surrounding native contingent  in the 1964 film Zuluor a rhythmic overbalanced bass emanating from a woofer one step from shaking itself to death, Sicario begins with a soundtrack guaranteed to elevate the viewer’s adrenaline levels.  This foreboding score begins the film as two definitions of the title appear onscreen. One; being a zealot (a killer who hunted down invaders of their homeland), the other;  meaning hitman. The Denis Villeneuve film is, fittingly enough, about both.

The film’s score, by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Foxcatcher, Prisoners) sets the tone and the pace of the feature from frame one. It manages to dictate the action, the feelings of impending doom and confusion (felt by the movie’s protagonist FBI agent Kate Macer, played brilliantly by Brit actress Emily Blunt) as well as the feeling that everything is one half-step away from stampeding out of control.

Sicario stars Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin.  Playing Macer’s professional partner Reggie Wayne is another Brit actor Daniel Kaluuya. Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Fargo) and Victor Garber (The Flash, Power) have impressive cameos in this film about drug cartels and the struggle to control them. The Walking Dead actorJon Bernthal has tiny cameo as a crooked cop.

The film, written by Taylor Sheridan (His first project as author versus actor.)  begins with a raid on a house in the suburban setting of Chandler, Arizona.  Macer is a kidnap specialist who, with her partner and a team of agents, invades a tract house. Entering, by the device of ramming a vehicle through a wall, the team discover a multitude of dead bodies secreted in the sheetrock walls.

Other agents are going through a storage shed behind the house when they discover it has been rigged to explode. Macer, Wayne and their boss David Jennings (Garber) are injured by the blast and flying debris. After the raid and the discovery of all those bodies, Macer is recruited by “DoD advisor Matt Graver (Brolin) and his shadowy colleague Alejandro (Del Toro). Wayne is not wanted, but tags along anyway to keep an eye on his partner.

Macer is talked into volunteering for a dangerous and vague mission to get the men responsible for the explosion in Chandler and the house of dead bodies.  Sicario follows her descent into the madness of a CIA operation and a father and husband bent on revenge.

The film is harsh, unrelenting and visceral in its depiction of cartel activity and the task force’s foray into “enemy territory.”  The viewer feels as helplessly caught up in events as the two FBI agents Kate and Reggie. The audience share her feelings of being overwhelmed, frustrated and enraged by the events and Reggie’s concern.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) delivers on a level that feels almost guttural in its texture and his use of Jóhannsson to blend and escalate his story is pure genius.  Between the soundtrack and the events unfolding on screen the tension is almost palpable as is the threat.  The tone of the movie is one of a tautness  that nearly screams with a tortured cry of  rage  and confusion from its beleaguered heroine.

Emily Blunt has proven yet again, that a slender and fragile looking English rose can convince as a tough as nails FBI warrior woman who gives as good as she gets.  (Blunt showed off considerable talents in the arena of being a tough customer in both Loopers; “I will cut you the F**k in half” and Edge of Tomorrow; “Bloody hell, it’s the Full Metal Bitch!” and Sicario brings her “action” skills full circle as the American FBI agent in over her head.)

Josh Brolin plays the type of character he specializes in; a real-feeling protagonist who is sitting square in the middle of the fence. A man who is not afraid to create chaos if the end result is order.

Benicio Del Toro is brilliant as the taciturn and scary agent  of Graver’s (Brolin) chaos.  A disturbing mixture of thinly covered pathos tinged with a  deadly air that permeates every scene he is in.  His interactions with Blunt’s character are full of regret and sadness, she reminds him, he says,  of his daughter, which speaks volumes of the FBI agent’s naivety in this new world of cartels and the death they deliver.

Sicario is a powerhouse film that does not have a satisfactory or even clear cut ending. Ambiguity and a sense of confusion are present even after the end credits roll.  The final result is that we the audience have stepped fully into the shoes of Macer and identify with her completely.

This is a full 5 out of 5 stars film.  Tight to the point of screaming;  the plot, the performances and the action all follow that thrumming driving score.  Watch this film and prepare to be wound up like a Swiss precision watch.  Cracking entertainment that should not be missed.

 

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Author: Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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