Conceived with an incredible sense of grim fatalism and a cynical worldview that feels both refreshingly honest and tack-sharp, Denis Villeneuve’s utterly masterful Mexican drug cartel thriller Sicario is a feast for the senses while never skimping on introspective character beats and pulse-pounding action. Written with obvious research and keen intelligence by Taylor Sheridan, the film rarely feels “American,” in the sense that it offers up a damning portrait of a literal hell on earth (in this case Juarez, Mexico) and plunges the viewer head-first into disturbingly violent areas of society without ever pulling any punches; it’s a kindred spirit to something like Sean Ellis’ gripping Metro Manila and the absurdly underrated Miss Bala from director Gerardo Naranjo, two recent foreign thrillers that make mincemeat of the stateside competition. In Sicario, Villeneuve continues his red-hot-streak after Incendies, Enemy, and Prisoners (still need to see Polytechnique), and in tandem with the incomparable cinematographer Roger Deakins, has crafted an immersive topical thriller that stings with believability, inevitability, and a guiding sense of logical, clear-cut storytelling. It’s also the most tension-packed film I’ve seen in a theater since No Country for Old Men; at no point could I ever guess what was coming next and the level of atmospheric dread on display due to the insane sound design and haunting visuals kept me literally on edge for two hours.
I had heard it mentioned recently on the internets that the film was a cross between Zero Dark Thirty and Traffic, and that’s not too far off – it’s as accomplished as both of those fantastic pieces of work, and while indebted to them in some ways, Sicario is its own, visceral animal from the very first frame. Emily Blunt, as usual, is tough as nails as an Arizona FBI/SWAT member drafted by some hush-hush superiors to tag along on a covert mission in Mexico to eliminate a major drug dealer. Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are her mysterious handlers, who aren’t interested in providing too much background on their employers or their ultimate end-games; both actors are incredible, with Del Toro dropping an Oscar worthy performance that cuts hard both emotionally and physically. The numerous action scenes sizzle with bloody ferocity, never going over the top or reveling in the carnage, but being upfront about the damage that bullets will do to the human body. This is a dark, disturbing, totally nihilistic movie that’s not interested in being your friend or making you smile. It’s about something real and current and important and Villeneuve is too smart a filmmaker to start preaching or moralizing. It is what it is – and in this world – nobody is going home happy. And then there’s the film’s final shot, which implies so much without having to speak a word. I can’t wait to see this film again and again and again and again.