There used to be a time when cops where the good guys and the gangsters always the bad guys, at least that’s what the crime thrillers wanted us to feel. Of course later on over the years as cinema began to get a lot more progressive we started seeing a lot more realism in films. All of a sudden we started questioning ourselves whether all gangsters are bad and if all cops are indeed good. Don’t we keep hearing of so many rogue cops and also of gangsters who are principled and with a heart of gold? Every now and then the line gets blurred, making us often wonder which side to support especially if the protagonist is a cop, but a rogue cop at that. In such cases often it’s a case of personal judgement, after all life isn’t always black or white; there are so many aspects which are actually grey all over, a little bit of both sides adding to their character.
Sicario stands for a hitman used typically by Latin American mafia, perhaps owing its origin to Sicarri from ancient Jerusalem. Denis Villeneuve’s latest film Sicario starts off by telling us the meaning and origin of the term, before starting off explosively in the actual sense. Hailing from Canada, Denis has been the toast of the festival circuit over the years, making a splash at prominent film festivals including Cannes and Berlin repeatedly with his films. He made the transition to Hollywood with Prisoners (2013), a move which enabled him to work with Hollywood A listers like Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, but while it would have been easy to compromise and take the easy way out, Denis Villeneuve chose to continue making his kind of films. Getting popular actors to be a part of the kind of cinema you believe in is always good for a filmmaker, it improves the distribution prospect of the film for sure. Sicario follows suit in the same direction, it’s a crime thriller with a fresh perspective.
With perhaps one of the most bizarre yet interesting starts to a film I’ve seen in recent times, we see an FBI team on a raid to nab a kidnapping network discover dozens of corpses hidden in the walls of a house in Chandler, Arizona. only to be startled further by a bomb blast which sees 2 of the FBI officers losing their lives. Present during the operation are agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and her partner, Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya). Kate is recommended by her superior to join a search team of elite agents led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who are out to nab the men responsible for what happened at the house that was raided, including an attempt to nab the drug cartel boss Manuel Diaz (Bernardo P.Saracino). Kate agrees as she feels this gives her a chance to get back at the people behind the incident. While on the mission Kate also comes across the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) and things slowly take a curious and interesting turn as the team gets sucked into a dangerous game across both sides of the U.S-Mexico border.
Sicario certainly attempts to tell us that no side is perpetually clean in the war against drug menace and that there’s more than what meets our eyes in a plain and simple fashion. It also takes a peek at the human side of all the main characters, like the way Silvio (Maximiliano Hernandez)’s daily routine is outlined, including his son’s interest in football. The film takes some time to get used to, despite a lot of action it does chug along at a slow yet steady pace and is not an edge of the seat thriller. However Denis Villeneuve knows his craft and knows it pretty well, he makes sure that even for those in the audience who are fidgeting around, there will also be a segment to shock or hook you from time to time. If the opening act was tough to follow up with then there’s a wonderful action sequence set in the midst of a traffic block. At first nothing really happens, but it’s like the lull before the storm as all hell breaks loose, shocking Kate and surprising the audience in the bargain.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins and editor Joe Walker deserve all the praise for ensuring that the tension visible during this traffic jam portion is palpable and effective. The tunnel action sequence shot under night vision is again quite a masterful sequence. Johan Johannsson’s background score is a huge plus for the film, in particular I like the way he uses a peculiarly sharp throbbing sound which slowly but steadily rises in intensity, literally catching us off guard. The entire opening sequence bears this quite effectively. Considering that the film talks of cops and members of the drug cartel, it is quite hard hitting indeed. The action sequences are raw and effective. Reggie provides great support to Kate and their interactions are interesting, like the way he manages to joke about her dressing style right in the middle of all the drama that’s happening around them. There are some questions which might appear in your mind with respect to a few characters but Denis Villeneuve makes sure to tie all the knots together as the film moves towards the culmination.
The film benefits a lot from the performances, of which Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin certainly lead the pack. Forming a delectable yet characteristically different trio, each one of them is quite effective and does well over here. Josh Brolin as Matt Graver is calm, reassured and generally in control while Benicio Del Toro as Alejandro is intriguing and brings in the desired element of measured aggression into the character. Emily Blunt as Kate is the fulcrum of the tale, and despite not being the clear protagonist here it is she who makes us ask ourselves a lot of questions like whether everything is indeed fair in war (reference to the drug cartels), whether results alone matter and if for the same one can sacrifice ethics and other values, how does one survive when the whole system seems to be going against you etc. Emily Blunt brings the necessary vulnerability and cause for concern in Kate, making her performance almost a standout one.
Ultimately Denis Villeneuve ensures that Sicario turns out to be a moving experience indeed. It may not be the greatest ever crime thriller, but it is a welcome addition to the club of well-made films in that category. With perhaps nearly all the ingredients in the right proportion, Sicario ends up as a tale that once again proves that the director is someone who knows his craft quite well. Sicario is indeed a delight for the discerning audience; it is a film which leaves you disturbed in a way, perhaps making you question yourself as well.