Scorching with the dry and arid heat of the desert land, an aerial view of Phoenix, Arizona fills the opening screen of French Canadian director Denis Villenueve’s newest feature Sicario. Sweaty, pulsating with uncanny tension and trumpeting with constant uncertainty, it seems that the land in which Sicario is based on is inhabited solely by the ravenous animals of the desert; and no, it isn’t referring to the four-legged desert beasts hungry for blood.
Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier in the season, Villeneuve’s newest film seems to touch upon a current trend plaguing all new outlets, artistic commentaries and current events; immigration, and not just at a national level, but from a very large and vast international one.
Sicario takes places in the rural desert areas of Arizona and Mexico, setting the tone for a very corrupt and dangerous world where Mexican cartels rule the land, and the sounds of gunshots are as frequent as the cries of wolves. Drug cartels keep citizens in fear, police are as corrupt as the cartels themselves, and the efforts of the United States and their universal judiciary right for “peace” is as subtle as the low-efficiency Black SUV’s snaking their way through the hot highway pavements. With the high exposure of Trump’s high-attention media-driven campaign, as well as age-old conflicts between land, boarders and people in other areas of the world, the issues of immigration are as universal as the numeric system, which makes Villeneuve a perfect candidate to direct a wrought, unbiased and highly effective piece of fiction and reality.
Yet, with all its high-profile media attention and concurrent position in all the headlines, Sicario doesn’t soar to its conventional storyline of corruption and intrigue of mystery for loyalties and alliances; the film itself exceeds due to its honest portrayal of people playing people, dealing in real ways with the abundance of injustice and violence.
The spearhead of these real people is highlighted by the impeccable performance from Emily Blunt. Blunt, who trades in glam for grit, plays Kate Macer, an idealistic Special Weapons and Tactical Team agent who believes in justice and the greater good. During a routine kidnapping raid, Macer and her trusty partner, Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya), encounter a total of forty-two corpses hidden within the walls of the abandoned home, as well as an explosive device that detonates, killing two officers, and wounding Kate and Reggie. With the aftermath of the explosion behind them, Kate is offered a position working for the CIA and Department of Defence, lead by the egotistical and reckless Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). Using brute force and unconventional and highly illegal methods of dismantling the Mexican drug cartel, the special unit, paired with the help of a very mysterious and highly intimidating Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro), break the rules of law in order to get their men.
Sicario is an uncomfortable film, in every sense of the word. Recommending the film would be a hard sell. If it wasn’t for the always spectacular Del Toro, who chimes in an Oscar worthy supporting performance that requires very little dialogue, but masterful minimalist acting, the film itself isn’t the most commercial in theatres. The intensity of the film stays true to the very blurred lines of federal justice while crossing State lines; constantly being under strict surveillance. Although the characters seem to be always out of their own jurisdiction, Kate seems to be the teams only voice of reason. It becomes quite clear early on, that everyone else in the ops are crossing the rules of the terrain, forcing Kate to bend her very strong and unwavering moral conscious. What might appear to be a very annoying character trait, in reality becomes a selling feature as Kate’s ability to humanize the very barbaric people around her is something audiences admire, not begrudge.
Much like the memorable performance from Del Toro’s Alejandro, Sicario embodies the characteristics of the most memorable strong, silent type characters in cinema. Without over-stimulating the senses in the way Hollywood knows how to, Sicario never lets up its aggressive demeanour, despite its scarcity. Thanks to the wonderful work of Jòhann Jòhannsson (Prisoners, The Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher), who sets an unsettling score with natural sounds of harmful creatures (buzzing of bees, howling of wolves), the film’s score paces the very slow moving material at a very heavy and fluid pace. Matched with the wonderful cinematography of master Roger Deakins, the confident and tremendous direction of Villeneuve, and phenomenal transformation of Blunt as Kate, Sicario is one of the most, if not most, complete films of 2015, in all regards, cinematically speaking.
Visually, the film is a diamond in the rough. Deakins, the most deserving man working in the world of cinema for an Academy Award, blends his previous knowledge of shooting No Country for Old Men, which took a very open scope desert and added hints and cues of blue and orange, and transformed a landscaped soaked in the red of innocent men’s blood, and added a humanistic and unmeasurable grainy quality to the film that elevates the notion of feuding neighbouring countries to alarming heights.
Written by actor turned writer extraordinaire Taylor Sheridan, much of the film’s script is guiding by the gazes of promise and the hope for change. Yet, the film itself is a violent and very realistic facade of impossible compromise and shattered dreams. Graver, a jokester and impressionable man with very shaky loyalties, at one point in the film, taunts Kate with lines like, “you are dramatically overreacting” or “you saw things you shouldn’t have seen”. While Alejandro assures Kate that no matter what actions are taken by the team, “Nothing will make sense to your American ears”. It is through these desensitized scenarios that many of the muddled strategies of governments, bureaus and of individuals can never really be truly understood in the eyes of other people; which becomes the greatest dichotomy of Sicario.
Guided by the impeccable performances of Blunt and Del Toro, Kate and Alejandro become relics of the very people they never intend on becoming. Transformed through lies, deceit, pain, suffering and strangled by the limited options of their personal powers, Sicario crashes into your head like a sick, unwanted and highly dramatized scenario. While the disfigured bodies of civilian men hang from the cold and grey ledges of highways in Juarez, violence, terror and the beasts controlling the underworld and underprivileged world’s of perfectly good men, Sicario shows how the lives of a hard-working and patriotic American girl, can intersect with a hard-working, forced to corrupt cop, and how the sad situations of both these people solve the same solution, or feed an even greater problem. Stricken with tunnel vision, night vision and a perspectives of a narrow-minded mentality, Sicario shows a much greater and more problematic picture by the time the end credits roll.
Sicario is a brilliant and unabashed beast of a film pulsing and sweating with electrifying poise and patience to tell a story, the right story; of good and bad, happy and sad, free and true. This is one melancholic cinematic experience you cannot miss. And for goodness sake, someone give Roger Deakins an Oscar already!
“You are not a wolf, and this is the land of wolves now.”
Night Film Reviews: 9 Out of 10 Stars.
Is Sicario as good as we say it is? Complete masterpiece, or full-fledged disaster? How is Blunt?Del Toro? Does Sicario make you sick with content? Worry? Both? Leave you comments and sick thoughts below.