Review: Sicario (2015)




Denis Villeneuve


Taylor Sheridan


121 min.


Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan

MPAA Rating

R for strong violence, grisly images, and language

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What kind of person does it take to combat the drug war? As an FBI agent digs into the boiling conflict across the Mexican border, Sicario explores the frightening reality and vicious violence of a prolonged battle over the illegal substance trade.

Emily Blunt delivers a fierce performance as Kate Macer, an altruistic FBI agent brought in to a joint task force set up to root out a major drug cartel leader after a raid on a safehouse uncovers numerous bodies and a booby trap that kills two officers. Kate’s attempts to bring the cartel leader to justice are frustrated as she uncovers ulterior motives at the heart of the CIA operation.

While Blunt delivers the hands-down best performance in the film, she’s ably supported by terrific performances by Josh Brolin as the CIA task force leader, Benicio del Toro as an independently contracted assassin, and Daniel Kaluuya as Kate’s FBI partner. Beyond these four, the rest of the cast deliver fine performances on the periphery of the story.

The long-running drug war between Latin American and South American drug cartels has been an ever-present source of conflict between American citizens who favor the rule of law over those who favor the eradication of all drug pushers. A film like Sicario lays bear many of the concerns and justifications for ending such a war, embodied by the principled FBI agent. It’s in this exploration that screenwriter Taylor Sheridan finds the crux of the issue. Portraying the less-than-scrupulous operators on both sides of the conflict as equally complicit in the lack of conclusion to the decades-long skirmish.

As director Denis Villeneuve finds his rhythm in this taut thriller, he’s aided immeasurably by the skilled photography by Roger Deakins and the jarring score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. All of these components blend imperceptibly as Villeneuve explores the challenging and horrifying narrative. Few films have been able to examine both the violent realism that permeates the drug war and the inherent desire to bring it to a conclusion. The film posits that the entrenched interests of the United States in the perpetuation of the drug war outweigh any desire they have to bring the conflict to a fair and just conclusion.

Sicario is a film that some will see merely as justification for the continued waging of war against foreign drug cartels. Others will understand the desperate, but not entirely hopeless desire of rational and principled individuals to find a way to bring it to an end. While the film makes no suggestions for how to bring that about, it does a fine job exemplifying the worst and most selfish aims the conflict engenders, which in itself is an act of protest against its continuation.

Review Written

August 3, 2020

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