Sicario is an Intense, Thought Provoking Thriller: BlueCat Review
Who would’ve thought, in a summer packed full of Avengers, earthquakes, and a return to Jurassic Park, that one of the year’s best action movies would be a small, independent film from rookie screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan? The signs were there, with Denis Villenueve at the helm and Emily Blunt as the lead, though I can’t say I expected such a magnificent result. Sicario, the story of a task force sent after a notorious cartel at the U.S. and Mexico border, released initially on only six screens, packs such a punch that I left the theater immediately wanting to turn around and go right back in to see it again.
Villenueve’s foreign language film, Incendies was nominated for an Academy Award in 2011, but it was his 2013 #1 film, Prisoners, that put him on the map. Written by BlueCat finalist, Aaron Guzikowski, and starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Melissa Leo, Prisoners tells the harrowing story of a desperate father who will go to any length, no matter how dark or desperate, to find his kidnapped daughter. His more surreal follow up, Enemy, also starring Gyllenhaal, was somewhat more divisive in its reception. However, both Prisoners’ and Enemy’s intricate story structures and unique visuals made me an instant fan of Villenueve’s work.
In Sicario, Villenueve crafts an astonishingly beautiful film around an intense and dark story. Blunt, who, after Looper and Edge of Tomorrow, is quickly rising as one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars, portrays Kate, an idealistic FBI agent enlisted into a shadowy special ops team. Tasked with fighting the War on Drugs, Kate is joined by Matt, the team’s quirky leader played by Josh Brolin, and Alejandro, a mysterious hitman with a dark past played by Benicio del Toro. Blunt, Brolin, and del Toro all shine throughout the film, though it is to Blunt that much of the film’s praise is directed, deservedly so. Kate grounds the film, allowing it to transcend beyond the spectacular action set-pieces, giving the film its theme and message, asking the questions, to what extent will we go to end to the War on Drugs? What sacrifices and compromises of character must we make to do so?
However, despite Blunt’s outstanding performance, Kate sees little development as a character. It often feels as if she is simply a plot device meant to provide the film’s moral compass, especially toward the third act when she learns she was being used all along. Blunt is already getting early awards buzz for Sicario, though it would be a shame if del Toro doesn’t get in on the recognition as well. The cool calm with which he crafts what essentially turns out to be a terrifying character is something to be admired.
However, Sicario is superb beyond its performances. From its haunting music to its astounding cinematography, it is a downright beautiful film. Eleven-time Oscar nominated cinematographer, Roger Deakins, is at the top of his game here, with stunning aerial landscape shots of the border, gorgeous use of color and ambient light, and an intense, first-person perspective action sequence in night vision and infrared. Perhaps Deakins will finally take home the statue if honored with a twelfth nomination from the Academy. He deserves it.
Ultimately, Sicario finds itself held back only by the story’s unfortunate shift away from Kate to focus on Alejandro in the third act. In doing so, much of the film’s message seems lost and Kate is diminished as a character. Yet, Sicario remains a masterfully crafted, thrilling film and is perhaps Villenueve’s finest achievement thus far.
Sicario is currently playing in limited release, with a wide release scheduled for Friday, October 2nd, 2015.
Founded in 1998, the BlueCat Screenplay Competition seeks to develop and discover unknown screenwriters. For 2016 BlueCat Screenplay Competition submission information, click here.