There are a lot of big movies coming out this week and in the weeks to come. I hope, in all of that, word of mouth and critical acclaim gets people out to see director Denis Villeneueve deliver a crime drama masterpiece in Sicario. Villeneueve has shown in Prisoners and Incendies (both must-sees) that he is a savant at building tension to near-unbearable levels. In his previous films, that tension was mostly confined to interpersonal moments in small films. Sicario is a crime epic on the scale of Heat.
From an explosive opening that immediately sets the stakes of the drug war between the Sonora Mexican drug cartel and the US government, to the final moment, Villeneuve keeps the film moving and the viewer on the edge of their seat. Emily Blunt plays a FBI agent who is drawn into a strange coalition of military, spooks and an enigmatic mystery card (Benicio Del Toro) who are looking to strike the cartels at the highest levels and across borders. The full scale of the plan unfolds slowly and brilliantly until you’re left agog at what’s been happening the whole time.
Emily Blunt, if she hadn’t done it already, has established herself as the most versatile and one of the three or four best actresses in film today. Period. Not just another action film like Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario requires a range from Blunt that I don’t know that any other actress could have delivered as deftly as she. There’s a scene at the end between her and Del Toro that should put her front and center for Best Actress consideration.
Del Toro gets his best role since The Usual Suspects. His character is clearly lethal; clearly bent on revenge against the cartels; clearly working with the US team lead by Josh Brolin to attack the Sonora Cartel. What is never clear until the very end, is why and to what end. That revelation and the casual lethality that the character exudes are phenomenal. I’m not a huge Del Toro fan, but this was a brilliant performance.
I’ve raved about Denis Villeneuve quite a bit, but I’m going to do it some more, because it’s my review and I’m trying to hammer home that there’s a director out there making some of the most brilliantly tense, intelligent films today. The scary thing is, not a one of his films is anything less than a 9.5 and he’s getting BETTER. His use of cinematography and score in this film took what would have been a really good movie and made it a great one. He’s filming action scenes cutting between regular film, night-vision, thermal imaging, satellite overhead shots and more and doing so in a way that’s never gimmicky or distracting. Johann Johannsson, who won an Oscar last year for his brilliant score for The Theory of Everything, delivers a very different effort here. I wouldn’t listen to this score outside of the film, but using a very simple motif, inside the film he helps Villeneuve achieve (and I’m going to say it again) “tension”. I stopped drinking my Coke a third of the way through the film because I was getting edgy.
Brutal, relevant, innovative and brilliant in every aspect of the craft, Sicario joins Ex Machina at the very top of 2015’s film offerings. For fans of crime epics, or just flat-out brilliantly crafted cinema, Sicario kicks off what has the potential to be one of the best fall line-ups in recent memory.