It was never a surprise that Sicario would make my Top 10 of 2015, due to its powerful subject material, virtuosic performances, astounding visuals and unique directorial style. While I never got the opportunity to see this film during its release, I knew from the film’s aggressive and magnetic opening sequence (which had made its way onto YouTube) that I was in for a treat. Drawing elements from The Silence of the Lambs, Training Day and Apocalypse Now, Sicario should not have been under-appreciated and overlooked by the Academy Awards and the public eye as it has been recently. But with all the recent controversy, I wonder whether the Oscars are really an accurate measure of the best films anymore.
Sicario is one of the few films I’ve seen that has such a poetic feel, one that is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s work, with a preference for bestiality over beauty. There are several deep, resonant themes such as resilience, ambiguity and disjunction that take their time to speak to the audience. While reflecting on the film later onwards, I can say that Sicario’s thematic power and direction atone for the weak pacing and gratuitous frequency of travelling shots and images.
Villeneuve’s gritty, prolonged, and suspenseful directorial style and his attention to performances and cinematography, which I first witnessed in Prisoners (see my review here), are in full bloom in Sicario. While the brutal violence and overall disturbing tone might not be for all viewers, there are highly suspenseful moments that eventually manifest themselves in the narrative. The suspense is bolstered by the impeccable sound design and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s musical score, with the eerie amplifications of diegetic sounds complemented by the growling basso string and brass instruments.
13-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins delivers once again with startling cinematography that hits on all the elements you expect from a film’s visuals. Reminiscent of Alex Webb’s photography from his album Crossings, the cinematography is constructed more like an observer’s point of view rather than a participant’s. Of particular mention is Deakins’ unique approach to nocturnal shots through both thermal vision and night vision in their unaltered form. As a filmmaker myself, it’s interesting to see how the preference towards natural lighting is growing.
Emily Blunt, borrowing elements from her role in Edge of Tomorrow, stars as FBI agent Kate Macer, in one of her greatest performances, if not the best ever. She is perpetually surrounded by a pack of masculine, testosterone-driven warriors, led by the Kilgorean Matt Graver, who is played to perfection by Josh Brolin. Idealistic and incorruptible, Kate is the conscience of the film, and it doesn’t take long for her emotions to unravel due to the gruesome sights and sounds present in her line of work. Blunt’s portrayal of Kate is a prime example of how a marriage between a well-written character and a talented actor can result in cinematic gold. Perhaps just as stunning and intriguing as Blunt’s performance is Benicio Del Toro's, who plays the eponymous sicario Alejandro. Initially enigmatic and silent, Del Toro masterfully uses subtlety to manifest Alejandro’s vengeful ambitions and moral ambiguity, not afraid to torture, shoot or intimidate others to accomplish his own personal mission.
I think Sicario will hold up well in years to come, because it shows how, no matter the time or place, the cruelties of war, violence and law enforcement dilute our sense of morality. While the title may refer to Alejandro’s exclusive occupation, Sicario is a tense, taut and thoughtful odyssey that explores how the violence and ruthlessness bleeds into law enforcement itself, and how the danger of becoming a sicario yourself is very real.
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ½