Film: “Sicario”; Director: Denis Villeneuve; Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Maximiliano Hernandez; Rating: ***1/2
Sicario meaning “hitman” in Spanish, is an intense drama set in the Mexico-US border. It is a disturbing portrait of US’ efforts to curb drug cartel violence in its territory.
Narrated through an idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer’s point of view, the film opens with the FBI’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team raiding a house in remote Chandler, Arizona. During the raid they discover bodies along with explosives stacked within the walls of the house.
After a traumatic blast which kills two officers, Macer along with her partner Reggie Wayne are summoned to the head office.
Here, she is singled out by Matt Graver, a mysterious government official, and asked to volunteer to team up with elite agents who are searching for the men responsible for violence in the region.
Keen to make a difference, Macer agrees. She is asked to accompany Graver and an equally shadowy agent, Alejandro to El Paso, Texas. En route she learns that they are going to Juarez, Mexico instead, to flush out the cartel boss Manuel Diaz.
This discovery baffles her and she soon realises that she has been kept in the dark about the mission.
Despite her frustrated prodding, Graver and Alejandro refuse to provide her with any clarity on what exactly they’re doing and for whom. Perplexed with her role in the mission, she trudges along.
Emily Blunt as Kate Macer, the tough but brittle young woman, performs brilliantly even though “Sicario” does not offer her anything extraordinary in terms of action and scope to perform.
Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro as Matt and Alejandro, are a formidable pair. Together they are forceful and enigmatic and lend a sublime aura to their characters.
There is plenty of well orchestrated action set pieces that include a raid, a convoy trip from El Paso to Juarez, fisticuffs and gun battles to satisfy viewers with genre appetites.
But what makes director Villeneuve’s impeccably crafted thriller taut and explosive is Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Icelandic music composer Johann Johannson’s disturbing score.
Deakins surprises us with some fascinating cinematic frames that build up tension in unusual ways.
Most effective are the shots that capture the silhouettes during twilight and the “negative” effect in total darkness make his work, simply unmatched.
There are also brilliant aerial shots that show the barren landscape, the border including portions of the American-built fence that’s worth a mention.
Similarly, Johann’s background music, set to the bass drone of a distant air strike or the wallow of a stomach churning over, cranks up the unease of key scenes with depths of catastrophic dread.
Overall, “Sicario” is a masterfully crafted, thought provoking film that is unflinchingly graphic and which will appeal to fans of subtlety.