On paper Sicario is the latest film to explore the violent depths of Mexican drug cartels. And whilst it does this very well I have to admit that when I saw the posters I was somewhat underwhelmed. The plot is one which has popped up in a variety of films, TV series and even documentaries in recent years so hopefully my reluctance and overall lack of interest is understandable.
But now that I’ve not only taken the plunge to see this film but also felt passionate enough to write about my experience you’re most likely expecting me to tell you that Sicario is so much more that I initially expected. That it takes the tired and well-worn concept and turns it on its head and injects life into an overused formula. Well it doesn’t, and that’s also what makes it so great.
Now before I explain my contradictory statements above let me take a moment to provide a few lines about the plot and give you a general overview as to what I’m rambling on about.
Sicario delves into the rising tide of Mexican drug gangs and how their violent trade is spilling over to the southern states of America. Following in the footsteps of Emily Blunt, an FBI agent tasked with investigating the above mentioned cartels, we are given a first hand glimpse into the quiet literal cut-throat world. The main distinction which can be made between this and other cartel films is that the lead character is a woman. She also serves as a somewhat ‘pillar of justice’ on a team comprised of shadowy figures with mysterious allegiances. A motley Crewe (musical association not intentional) who share the common objective to “dramatically overreact” and provoke a response from the ruthless cartel boss. Now I could go on and lay out the story scene by scene or you could just watch the official trailer.
And now that the formalities are out of the way, here’s why Sicario is worthy of your attention.
The First and most important factor is that Sicario is an excellent example of film-making. Rodger Deakens, clearly drawing on a wealth of experience as Director of Photography, has exceed cinematography standards to create a visually captivating spectacle which is in no way subservient to ‘cutting edge’ special effects.
Overall Sicario has the feel of an effortlessly manicured film. It is full of subtle detail which adds layers to a somewhat flat and linear narrative. As mentioned in the title, Sicario plays very well with lighting and mysterious characters and scenes are shrouded in a very tangible shadow (The private jet crossing the Mexican border to an ‘unknown’ mission being a prime example of this). This use of shadow is present throughout the film and what’s most interesting is that core themes, emotions and the general mood is communicated through this subtle visual rather than a ‘heart-string tugging’ musical score (which is the Hollywood standard).
To review the film credit has to go where it’s due and since I’ve already heaped praise on Deakens shoulders for excellent cinematography work the next port of call has to be Benicio Del Toro. Playing Guillermo, a mysterious agent whose every move is so spoiler-laden that even mentioning him threatens to expose the plot, it’s fair to say that Del Toro pulls off one of his best performances in recent years. Whilst it’s interesting (well it might have been if True Detective didn’t get there first) to drop a female FBI agent into the mix as the lead character, Emily Blunt is somewhat forgettable. And to go back to the fantastic cinematography (again) it’s hard to pinpoint what contributions director Villeneuve has actually made? Finally it’s worth pointing out that Josh Brolin is far less annoying here than his performance in Everest.
To rate Sicario (out of 5 as convention dictates) I must first point out that it is (in my opinion) one of the best made films of 2015. it is packed with tension and suspense whilst maintaining to uphold a degree of realism. Unfortunately marks have to be deducted as I feel that the plot is somewhat formulaic and the characterisation could do with further development. But in saying that Sicario is a strong 4/5 in my book.