“You are not a wolf, and this is the land of wolves.”
Sicario has been stuck in my mind since the opening sequence unfolded before my very eyes in theatres, in a manner so few films in my life ever have. Very few have ever been successful in leaving such a lasting stain on my mind. This film is like days-old dirt stuck under my fingernails, salt water swishing in my ears, the undying Sun burning in my eyes. It does not want to leave at all, it just wants to stay buried in these deep places I cannot reach. It is so dark, disquieting, and depressive in nature, and such a brutally violent, honest, and eerily realistic piece of cinema that quite honestly, made me want to shower after seeing it. I have not seen anything like it since The Counselor crept into theatres a couple years ago; Apocalypse Now springs to mind as another example. Sicario is ultimately a low-key, intimately orchestrated thriller that almost left me underwhelmed simply because it is not the big and bombastic flick one could assume it may be by the films trailers.
The score, repetitively pulsing throughout the film in the greatest way possible, chimes through the air with the ferocity of an explosion, then proceeds to crawl into your ear and make its way deep beneath the surface of your skin. As that music creeps toward your nerves, the suspense of any number of impeccable sequences, such as the infamous highway interaction, slowly turns your knuckles pearl white, puts the hairs on the back of your neck in standing position, and the gorgeous, stark cinematography lowers your jaw to the floor. A gunshot will crack against the wind, taking you by surprise as magnificently as the films twists, so deafeningly loud you almost experience a ringing sensation in the canals of your ear. The performances catch you off guard with their inherent subtleties and nuances, while the completely unexpected humour of a couple brief moments fills your lungs with welcomed laughter. The sheer brutality of the violence widens your eyes with fear, the popping of gunfire so realistic you just might think you are being shot at; murders so gruesome if you are of the weak stomached, your insides may churn at the sight of beheaded bodies, and heads exploding in bursts of crimson life force. But it is the journey by the characters into a near unparalleled descent into darkness from which there is no return, that will put a poisonous void inside the deepest caverns of your heart, and send cold shivers running down the length of your spinal column, disrupting the tranquility of your very soul. Sicario is a film that you’ll be unable to shake in any reasonable period of time.
The performances across the board are all great, from the itchy trigger fingered lowlife criminals to Emily Blunt’s naive agent Kate Macer, to Josh Brolin’s stern cowboy-ish possibly C.I.A. spook, though Benicio Del Toro’s quietly contemplative, brooding god of merciless death Alejandro is most likely to leave the strongest impression; he’s quite the wicked force of nature.
Any other year, Roger Deakins would deserve, and bear the potential of scoring an Oscar nod at the very least for his spellbinding cinematography that captures the smallest of dust particles to the true essence of night in such staggering detail one may shed tears in awe of the beauty, or simply find themselves speechless. While it likely is not as staggering as the work Emmanuel Lubezki has done with The Revenant (I have not had the pleasure of seeing that film just yet), Sicario still bolsters brilliantly concocted visuals from a true master of the craft.
In a crime film that follows the exploits of various law enforcement operatives systematically slaughtering cartel members left and right in an attempt to sever the head of the snake[so to speak] orchestrating cartel inflicted killings across America and Mexico, Sicario by films end feels like a hot-blooded rogue documentary with the ferocity of a screaming gunshot captured on camera by one of the agents, and not the silly exploitation movie it could have been in misguided hands. If one views it as such, you can clearly witness how blunt, honest, authentic, naturalistic, brutal, and precise this stellar film is. It surely is a stressful and powerfully overwhelming endurance test. It is assuredly an openly nihilistic (in the best way possible), unflinching examination of the thin grey line that separates wolves from sheep, and hunters from the hunted, with one hell of a bloodthirsty, tortured man in Alejandro dragging us blindly into a realm where darkness reaches out to darkness with battered hands and consumes its soul. And ours.
*This is a revised edition of a review I wrote on October 11th, 2015.