Denis Villeneuve directs a suspenseful story of an inter-surveillance-agency team chosen for a mission to illegally cross the border into Mexico and to attack and if possible assassinate a powerful drug lord living in Juarez. FBI agent Kate Macer needs to figure out why she is on this team and mission and is highly troubled by the answers she is or is not getting. The theme is how the violent drug war in Mexico warps the US law enforcement. But the film makes for a tense thriller.
Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) was part of a raid near the Mexican border in Arizona that turned up some extremely gruesome findings. The raid also ran into trouble and two agents died in the effort. Macer herself considers the raid a disaster but, for her part in the raid, she is asked to work with an elite team on a mission to eliminate a high-profile drug Cartel boss.
Macer is surprised to find out one of the members of the team is a Mexican, Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), which seems to be a violation of the law. The team is going to Juarez, Mexico for their mission, another violation. Macer has to not only try to understand her enemy; she needs to understand just who and what her own team is and, most importantly, why is she with a team performing a mission so different from her experience. Not surprisingly all will be explained though Macer may not like the answers to her questions.
The story is a quiet struggle between Mercer and the mysterious Alejandro who is Mexican and not even from the US and nonetheless seems to be controlling the US team. Del Toro is very smooth in his role and Blunt, in some of her best performance to date, shares her mounting frustration with the viewer. They are two very accomplished performances.
Very controversial is the film’s treatment of the city of Juarez in Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay. It is portrayed as a city in chaos where crime is totally out of hand. Juarez comes off as a city of nightmarish horror. One need only stop outside and listen for a few minutes to hear the chatter of machine guns. The film is just a little gory and graphic, but some of the ideas may be as horrifying as anything the viewer sees on the screen. Graphic scenes are avoided by having them take place just off camera. Though there are disturbing visual images in a few places, the film’s thrills do not come from violence and blood on the screen but from intelligent and unsettling dialog. Nevertheless, the film is beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, one of the great film cinematographers. As often as he can, Deakins shows us really majestic skies, often dark and heavy with ominous clouds. The musical score by Johann Johannsson employs a nearly subsonic rhythm that helps to put the viewer on edge. The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve who manages a very natural style with sufficient but not exaggerated action.
‘Sicario’ is playing in theatres opposite ‘Spectre’ and generally is the same genre of film, but there is no doubt that ‘Sicario’ has a better and more relevant story with more believable characters. I rate ‘Sicario’ a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. Aside: The word ‘sicario’ is Spanish for ‘hitman’.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2016