There probably isn’t much left to say about Sicario that hasn’t been said already, but what a film. From the gruesome discovery in the walls of an inconspicuous house to the final, tense encounter, this is a film that refuses the audience even a small break from the pervading sense of unease.
As Kate Macer, the FBI agent suddenly adrift in a morally grey world, Emily Blunt is fantastic, balancing the increasingly complex demands with her own conscience. It’s also refreshing to have a female character in an action film like Sicario who isn’t just reduced to a side character, or treated as useless purely due to her gender. The times when she is dismissed by Graver (Josh Brolin) or Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) is usually due to her persistence in finding out the truth about the operation, going behind her superiors’ backs. Brolin is also excellent as the mysterious, unorthdox leader of the operation, whose relaxed nature hides an appetite for violence.
A special mention has to go to del Toro, whose portrayal of Alejandro has to go down as one of the best of the year. He has the tendency to stick to the background of the film, serving as an observer of the action, revealing little about his character to the audience. It is through a heart-breaking reveal that his motives are revealed, and his unbreakable calmness in the final act of the film is as unnerving as the violence. How he didn’t win an Oscar for this performance, I do not know.
The film itself is beautifully shot by Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, with the washed-out pastels of Arizona and the various internal locations contrasting with the almost complete blackness of the night op, or the vivid colours locations in Juarez.
While Villeneuve does criticise the policy of the US in the Mexican drug wars, the individual characters are not criticised, and the film ends on a slightly unfulfilled note, with the implication that despite everything Macer has experienced, nothing will ever really change.