This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th September 2015
The eye-popping opening scene of this gritty glimpse into the perilous world of Mexican drug cartels (best unspoilered) sets Sicario up to be one of the best thrillers of the year.
FBI SWAT team leader Kate Macer (a terrific Emily Blunt, flexing the muscle she so beautifully honed in Edge of Tomorrow), is enticed into some sort of a worthy mission, but then kept in the dark by the shady agents who conscript her. Adept at “kicking down doors” on the Arizona side of the drug-dealing tracks, she finds herself thrown over the border into Mexican towns which are simultaneously run and ruined by dark forces.
Director Denis Villeneuve followed up his brilliant, critically acclaimed Incendies with 2013’s less impressive Prisoners (in which a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal stole the show as a tenacious cop on the trail of a child-kidnapper). Here, Villeneuve is back on top form, applying his admirable commitment to authenticity to the ins and outs of cross-border policing and the grim realities of cartel-ruled life.
The film boasts plenty of Villeneuvean aesthetics, with shots framed by doorways and windows and exquisite skies (thanks in no small part to legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins).
From an exhilarating border crossing by a police convoy, to a gripping siege shot from multiple points of view, Villeneuve keeps the tension and pace high.
Blunt makes for a typically strong female protagonist, less patronised than her forebear Clarice Starling, and the supporting cast (including a twinkly-eyed Josh Brolin and the welcome return of Benicio Del Toro, evoking his role in 2000’s Traffic) are perfectly-pitched.
Sicario is the stuff cinematic crime thrillers are made of.