Movie review: ‘Sicario’ a tough look at the war on drugs
–What do you think of when you think of the war on drugs? It’s a phrase that was probably made most famous in the 1980s, but it’s been an ongoing battle ever since, and along the way, Hollywood has taken a look at the progress.
In 2000, director Steven Soderberg offered a sprawling look in “Traffic,” a film that won Best Picture and offered a somewhat hopeless view on winning the war on drugs. More recently, the Netflix show “Narcos” looked at the battle in the 1970s and 1980s to stop the flow of cocaine from Columbia to the United States.
Into that genre comes “Sicario,” a tense drama about an FBI agent who joins a special task force that’s not what she thinks it will be, and the fall out from their mission.
The film centers on Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) who leads a raid on a suspected kidnapper in Arizona. What she and her partner – Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) — find instead is a house serving as a graveyard for the cartel, and a hidden bomb that costs the lives of several officers.
Soon Kate is summoned to the offices and asked questions by her supervisor, Dave Jennings (Victor Garber), and a mysterious stranger, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who test her knowledge of the Juarez Cartel. Kate is then offered a chance to join a special task force aimed at curbing the violence the drug trade is bringing to the United States.
Soon Kate is on a plane with Graver and a mysterious operative, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), and soon finds herself with a group of Special Forces troops making a prisoner transfer from Juarez to Texas. That leads to a new mission objective, one that causes Kate serious misgivings about the true purpose of the task force and who Matt really is.
Director Denis Villeneuve does a great job bringing tense stories to life. That’s what he did with “Prisoners” in 2013, and he repeats that here with “Sicario.” It’s a tense, moving and gripping drama — one that makes the most of its cast and its action sequences.
“Sicario,” taken from the Spanish word for hitman, has a great tone and pacing. The action isn’t plentiful, but when it happens Villeneuve knows how to pace it and stage it. The action sequences are intense and meaningful.
It’s a bit of a darker film and story, but “Sicario” makes all that work, too. The film features a great performance from Blunt — an early frontrunner for a Best Actress nomination — as well as Del Toro and Brolin. Blunt has established herself as an incredibly versatile actress. In 2014 she was great opposite Tom Cruise in an action role and won a Golden Globe for her work in the musical “Into The Woods.” With “Sicario” she shows another side, her range and her ability to carry a much different kind of film.
Del Toro — who earned an Academy Award nomination for “Traffic” — is perfect in this role, while Brolin does great as the somewhat shifty leader of the task force. Both play off each other well and have a great feel for the material.
The script from Taylor Sheridan is tightly packed, moves at a great pace and establishes and engrossing — if a bit depressing — narrative. This isn’t “Traffic,” but you can’t help but feel like it comes from a similar worldview.
I was engaged by this film, and sometimes disturbed by it; that’s the point. This is one of the better releases so far in 2015. It’s not an easy watch, and it won’t make you feel better about the world, but it achieves what it sets out to accomplish.
“Sicario” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for strong violence, grisly images, and language. Enter with caution.
Four stars out of four.