Review: ‘Sicario’

Rarely does a movie feel so intensely alive as Sicario, an intense drama that ratchets almost instantly into a suspense thriller and seldom relaxes after that.

Emily Blunt stars as rookie FBI agent Kate Macer, who was sent into the field very early as a kidnap rescue specialist and has acquitted herself quite well. Her steely resolve is demonstrated on a mission with her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), where they are reminded once again that they are, in essence, little more than janitors, cleaning up the fatal messes left behind when the drug cartels have completed their deals, no matter how effective they are at their jobs.

Given the opportunity to join a secretive, multi-agency task force led by the entirely too casual CIA agent Matt (Josh Brolin), she quickly accepts, and soon finds herself on the wrong side of the U.S./Mexico border, picking up a cartel chief in the hopes that it will draw out the chief’s brother, who is perpetually in hiding. The true motives of the operation itself remain murky, beyond Matt’s mouthing platitudes about needing to get things done.

It speaks directly to Kate’s growing impatience and frustration, the realization that doing everything strictly according to the law is inherently ineffective when battling criminals with seemingly unlimited resources and absolutely no scruples. Facing the largest moral dilemma of her life, she receives no help from Reggie, who is committed to upholding the law no matter what, although he is ready to go through hell and back to protect and defend his partner.

Instead, Kate is fascinated and repelled by Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a soft-spoken nuclear threat who is ready to explode wherever and whenever he needs to do so. He’s described as a consultant from Colombia, though his loyalties remain in question. Really, the entire operation revolves around him, and his goals, which are single-minded and absolutely pitiless when they are finally revealed. Whether Alejandro is righteous in his behavior or not, of course, depends on your moral point of view.

Del Toro is magnetic in the role, a low-key, simmering volcano capable of exploding at any moment. Blunt, wiping away most of her sparkling charm, provides an uncertain moral center. Kaluuya is proficient and believable in a thankless role. Brolin is feckless and reckless. Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Victor Garber, and Maximiliano Hernandez, as a police officer and family man whose connection to the case remains unclear for much of the movie, all contribute excellent dramatic turns.

Sicario wrestles with legal, moral, and philosophical questions while hurtling down the highway like a rocket. Drawn from an excellent original script by Taylor Sheridan, superbly directed by Villenueve, sumptuously photographed by the masterful Roger Deakins, and edited to within an inch of its life by Joe Walker, Sicario burns with moral fiber and artistic integrity.

The film opens at Cinemark West and AMC NorthPark on Friday, September 25, before opening wide on Friday, October 2.