Director Denis Villeneuve raises the bar after his intense and harrowing Prisoners with a movie on a warpath. The War on Drugs has never felt more like actual warfare than in Sicario.
FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) serves on a drug squad, as the lead on a hostage search and rescue team. As the film begins, we see just how brutal this work can be. Sicario's opening sequence, a raid on one of the properties owned by a known drug lord and used for many aspects of the business, is nail-biting and bone-chilling; when one seasoned FBI agent has to step outside to vomit, you almost want to join him. What the cops find inside the house isn't visually very graphic, but that almost makes it worse, because your imagination fills in the gruesome details. The scene sets a tone akin to that of a horror movie — sleek and elegant à la The Silence of the Lambs.
Kate is no innocent, nor does she shrink in front of violence: She was not the one who had to step outside to throw up. But now she is through a looking glass and down a rabbit hole, and getting deeper at every turn into a world in which the rules she knows don't apply ... and this infuriates her. Her idealism comes smack up against the realities of the War on Drugs; not that the horrifically messy situations they find themselves in aren't real, but they are artificially manufactured by everyone on both sides.
Sicario is one of the best movies of the year. For the incredible performances; Villeneuve had to battle for Blunt to take on a part that had been written for a man. Blunt makes Kate tough and smart and capable, but as a woman in what has traditionally been a man's role — law enforcement, that is, not starring in action drama — her character also brings the subtle criticism that new perspectives in law enforcement are needed, though not always welcome. For the savage atmosphere, which at times feels more like dystopian sci-fi than ripped-from-the-headlines actuality. For the pulse-pounding score, by Jóhann Jóhannsson, which thrums like war drums or a frightened heartbeat. And for how, like Kate, it rages with frustration against the real politik that has colonized and taken over the ideals of fairness and justice that we pretend rule us.
Dir. Denis Villeneuve; writ. Taylor Sheridan; feat. Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Opens Friday, October 2, 5 stars