Sicario (2015)

Sicario (2015)
  • Time: 121 min
  • Genre: Action | Crime | Drama
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro


In Mexico, Sicario means hitman. In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elite government task force official to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past, the team sets out on a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.


  • “Nothing will make sense to you. And you will doubt everything I do. By the end, you will understand,” Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) tells Kate Macer (Emily Blunt). Alejandro is the “sicario” of the title, a hitman who was a former prosecutor, and his words serve as a bracing warning to the idealistic Kate, an FBI field agent who will spend the majority of the movie mired in the murk of departmental politics and dubious methodologies.

    Sicario begins with an assault, one conducted by Kate and her less experienced colleague Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), on a house in Chandler, Arizona. What should have been a Mexican drug cartel leader’s hideout is instead a cemetery as she and the team are horrified to discover dozens of bodies lining the insides of the walls. These are not the last corpses that Kate will come across – cartel rule demands bloodshed and bodies, often mutilated, are both totems and cautionary symbols: speak against us and you will be punished.

    Alejandro and Kate are part of the special task force, whose member are culled from the C.I.A., D.E.A. and a host of other groups that go by their initials, assembled to track down the man responsible for the mass murders. Their contact is Matt Graves (Josh Brolin), a Department of Defense adviser who is all swagger, bemusement, and opaque proclamations. His objectives are “to dramatically overact” and “shake the tree and create chaos.” One can sympathise with Kate, who wonders what exactly it is they mean to achieve and who wants to follow some semblance of procedure in order to do it.

    Protocol is not a priority and the lines become ever blurred as Kate is alarmed to witness Graves and his team display the same disregard for human life as the very man they’re trying to capture. After a shootout at border patrol, Kate is dismayed to hear that the deaths “won’t even make the paper in El Paso,” never mind the country. The devaluing of human life is a theme that has underpinned all of director Denis Villeneuve’s films (Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy), and there is no more troubling or provocative statement that the one in which Alejandro justifies the team’s ethically suspect means to bring down the cartel lord as skin to “finding a vaccine.”

    If the film’s narrative is built on shifting sands and untrustworthy characters, its craftsmanship and execution are founded on care and consideration. Villeneuve possesses a meticulousness that is never dry or clinical, and almost always serves a textural purpose. He immerses us in the procedural, cerebral and the visceral. Structurally, Sicario is a film in three acts, each anchored by a masterfully executed set piece. The most impressive may be the tension-filled transport of a prisoner across the border, a phalanx of cars winding their way through the streets as Kate searches the surroundings for potential threats. The sequence climaxes as the procession of cars find themselves at a standstill, caught in a traffic jam, each passing second increasing their vulnerability to an attack. The words “red Impala” and “green Civic” have never sounded so menacing. Roger Deakins’ colour-saturated cinematography, Joe Walker’s sharp as a scalpel editing, and Johann Johannson’s unsettling score collaborate to amplify the dread and unease that perfume this no man’s land.

    Blunt is mesmerising, dominating the film’s first half with her bristling intelligence, before ceding Sicario’s second half to Del Toro. Truth be told, Del Toro owns the film from the first frame in which he appears, maintaining the aura of mystery that surrounds Alejandro. Is he angel or mercy or messenger of death? Perhaps both, perhaps neither. Del Toro’s economical approach reaps multitudes, startling us with both serenity and savagery.

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  • Sicario establishes Denis Villeneuve as Canada’s most prominent director. It’s not quite as profound as his Incendies but it’s still remarkable.
    If he has an auteur theme it’s the loss of innocence in a jaw-dropingly corrupt world. His signature tone is a tightening tension that approaches the unbearable. He never softens the material at the end.
    Here two innocents are sucked into America’s corrupting war against the drug cartels. The black lawyer and blonde kidnapping squad cop witness slaughters beyond their apprehension and acceptance. The losers are families, from the lost wife and daughter Alejandro sets out to avenge, through the corrupt cop Silvio’s family, to the cartel boss’s sons and wife.
    The most intimate human relations are trampled by the vicious gangs driven by greed. So, too, Kate nearly gets herself killed when her try for a one night stand tumbles her into the world of bought cops.
    The film’s overwhelming suspense serves its theme, the imminent threat of humanity turned into wolves. Alexandra’s prediction of a society of lawlessness and savagery earns the tension we feel throughout this experience. And it is an experience, not just a good story.
    The several god’s eye view shots of the landscape paradoxically suggest this is a godless world. The shots bespeak man’s technology not a higher understanding. The aerials show a desiccated, arid, lifeless nature in which humanity is reduced to negligible, passing specks. They’re like Edward Burtynsky photos — the mangled and ruined nature man leaves in his wake. It’s eerie and nightmarish but with an awful beauty. Their deadness makes them an emblem of the characters’ soul. Even in the innocence of the kids’ soccer game the war lights up the background.
    Kate doesn’t belong in this world. She signed up for a career that would restore family lives, recover taken members, not serve such wholesale destruction. But the CIA needs her to legitimize their acting on American soil. She serves as their “mule” the way the cartels deploy their carrier “mules.” She’s denied any will or knowledge beyond what they need to control her. Her dire actors make a point of denying her information, lest they lose control.
    Amazing that we still have innocence to lose. But we do. We keep finding hope that our humanity and morality will win out. We keep being reminded they don’t.

  • (Rating: ☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is mildly recommended.

    In brief: Another story about the drug wars that gives us more of the same but with style

    GRADE: B-

    Jim’s review: Sicario means hitman. That is all you need to know to understand the underlying theme in this thriller about the drug wars. There will be much blood, carnage, revenge, and savagery. That is part of the territory in this crime genre and Sicario follows that proven formula and rarely strays off course. That is both its strength and its weakness. The literate screenplay by Taylor Sheridan shows the gritty and grisly side of the Mexican cartel and its ongoing success in illegal drug trafficking.

    We follow an idealistic F.B.I. recruit, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), as she undertakes an new assignment, meeting unsavory characters and slowly learning the corrupt system that is in place in this drug-infested borderland area between the USA and Mexico. In her baptism under fire, she partners with two old pros: Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a gruff but knowledgable government agent in charge of the operation, and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a tough and intense policeman with many secrets and demons. The three actors are fine in their roles and make their characters very believable. Adding strong support are Daniel Kaluuya as Kate’s partner and Jon Bernthal as Ted, a one-night stand.

    This is standard but effective storytelling. Nothing much surprises here plot-wise, but director Denis Villeneuve adds many nice visuals to this conventional tale. (The talented Roger Deakin’s cinematography helps immensely.) The film’s chief asset is the director’s skill in contrasting the common lives of the Mexican people and their nonchalant attitude about the crime and violence that infects their everyday existence in the subtlest of ways. He doesn’t shy away from the horror of decaying corpses or bloodied victims caught in the crossfires of the drug wars, sometimes lingering too long at the grotesque images he creates.

    Sicario takes us to an ugly and depressing world but it is not to every moviegoer’s taste. While most of it is often predictable and unoriginal, the film remains interesting and compelling. Still, Villeneuve’s technical expertise takes direct aim of its difficult subject and allows Sicario to hit the target at very close range more often than not.

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  • Sicario is more than a little disappointing. It has the depth of an ice cube tray. And nothing that actors, directors, cinematographers or anyone else working on this movie can make this movie work.
    As I have said many time before, there has to be a good, well made story for the film to be good. In Sicario’s case, screen writer Taylor Sheridan has failed miserably. His characters are two dimensional and a couple not even that much. Some are cardboard cutouts that represent good or bad. The characters are stereotypes rather than having depth and life. There’s the innocent being dragged into something she shouldn’t be involved with. There’s the guy who is, generally, a good guy but who has had is goals distorted because of his unwillingness to do anything else. And those two characters have the most depth.
    The story isn’t any better. We’ve seen this kind of thing on the news and on TV shows swo often we know how it’s going to go so there’s no suspense to be found. There were a number of places in the story where, if the cliché response had be ignored, this story could have taken off in new directions, elicited sympathies for the characters, and even allowed the tension to build because we wouldn’t know where it was going. Unfortunately, the cliché was stuck to all the way down the line and it was predictable and boring.
    Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, and Daniel Kaluuya are the main characters and each actor puts up a very hard fought battle against the clichés and stereotypes of the script but they can’t break free and become believable. Denis Villeneuve, the director, must take some of the blame as well for accepting this script and, even with this script, there are things, non-verbal shots that could give the characters more depth, that he didn’t try or use.
    I give this movie 1 pointless predictable scene out of 4. This movie offers little and wastes what it has.

  • The badlands of the US – Mexico border and the viciousness of the drug trade running across it sets the background and the tone for this movie. It’s grim. Human life is very cheap and the movie doesn’t flinch from showing consequences. There are definitely some scenes that are not for the faint hearted, but there is nothing gratuitous here. If anything – despite the subject matter – the film goes out of its way to avoid Hollywood heroics.

    Emily Blunt does an amazing job portraying Kate Macy, a career policewoman heading a SWAT team. Her accent slips slightly a couple of times, but otherwise she’s utterly believable as born and raised in the deep south of the US. Kate is a fundamentally decent, honorable human being, trying to the right thing in a world where the rule book doesn’t seem to work any more. She’s smart, tough, and experienced – but right from the start of the movie, it’s clear that she’s in over her head.

    The tension never lets up. An attack could come at any moment, from any direction. Anything could be a trap. All of it, no matter how extreme something is, plays as real. The director manages scenes expertly to avoid any clean and easy action movie clichés, and it pays off enormously as the movie goes on.

    It’s also a highly intelligent movie, made for an intelligent audience. It doesn’t lay things out on a plate. Instead you have to pay attention and you have to think, just as Kate has to – because her first mistake could be her last.

    Staging, costuming, sets, cinematography, and lighting are all perfect. Some airborne shots in particular stand out as both daring and stunningly original, clearly showing just how harsh the landscape is, while managing to propel the story forward – without showing anyone, no less. This part of the movie is in the “As good as it gets” category. The only part that I didn’t like (and the reason that this doesn’t get a 10 from me) was the music. It’s used deliberately to heighten tension during some scenes which would otherwise break the feel of the movie, and generally it’s done well, but some scenes are spoiled with a There Will Be Blood styled screech. It’s really not needed, especially since Sicario’s own score manages to build or maintain tension quite successfully in other parts of the movie while remaining low-key.

    To my mind, this is much more of a drama than it is a thriller. It’s certainly not an action movie. The acting from the support cast is exactly what it needs to be – good in general, and great when a minor character is the focal point – but look closely at how much Benicio del Toro manages to do with no dialogue and not even all that much movement. Simply amazing.

    This is a great movie to see if you want to be challenged.

  • “You’re asking me how a watch works. For now, just keep an eye on the time.”

    “Sicario” was kind of a disappointment for me. Despite my admiration for director Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners” was an excellent film), the presence of a high-profile and talented cast and an inviting trailer (although I scrupulously shun trailers), I thought this one wasn’t really original and impressive. Maybe the trailer has put me on the wrong foot. That sinister and morbid beginning with those corpses stashed in plastic, made an immense impression on me. This combined with the flashy and clever scene where you see a convoy of pitch black SUV’s making their way through a crowded highway with an action-packed ending subsequently, made sure I was eagerly looking forward to seeing this film.

    The film certainly is excellent. But haven’t we seen this kind of “war against seemingly elusive Mexican drug cartels” before? Particularly the kind of movies where corruption and deliberate lies play a major role. With manipulative officials and field workers who have their own agenda. It’s all exciting, hard and ominous in this realistic “war on drugs” film, set in the blistering hot deserts of Mexico. The three main characters are a mixture of different characters. Emily Blunt (who played outstanding in “Edge of Tomorrow”, where she showed that she effortlessly could handle a physically grueling role) as the FBI agent Kate Macer, assisting two experts in this hopeless struggle. The first one is Josh “Oldboy” Brolin as the dead calm Matt digger who never shows the back of his tongue. And then there’s also Benicio del Torro as the mysterious acting Alejandro. Three masterfully played leading roles who are dancing, on the sound of a mariachi band, a complicated and politically charged Mexican dance.

    But as mentioned earlier, it didn’t impress me that much. Certainly not in the same way as “Prisoners”. It’s a rough and (figuratively) ugly film. But gorgeous and endlessly beautiful imaged. But the stereotypical characters are also introduced again. The head of a cartel enjoying a wonderful supper together with his family in a huge, imposing hacienda while his paltry and violent troops do the dirty work. A fragile FBI agent who again must stand her ground between the more robust and more imposing males. And finally it’s just another divide and conquer story in which the boundaries of morality are shifted again. Nothing new under the blazing Mexican sun.

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