Bringing his penchant for expressing a realistic world to his drama with the superb cinematographer Roger Deakins at the lens, director Denis Villeneuve delivers another powerhouse of mood and acting with Sicario, his follow-up to the 2013's superb Prisoners.
Sicario is a very hard-edged film, showing the evils (and necessary counter-evils) in the war against the Mexican drug cartels running shipments, via tunnels, into the United States. The film presents the concept that sometimes a temporary means to an end may be the only thing that can be done in the ongoing battle against those who murder in the name of money and drugs. The film also shows that sometimes smaller, personal means in the battles against evil are more important to the overall fiction of a 'bigger picture' in the war on drugs.
Sicario is a clear front-runner for an acting Oscar for Emily Blunt. She is fantastic in her role as an FBI agent who is asked to join an undercover task force of operatives to fight the drug war between the American and Mexican border. Her acting prowess reminds me of a young Jodie Foster from The Silence of the Lambs days - she's given a range to work with, rather than being the clear-headed, in-the-dark government official with a confused look on her face all the time. In fact, the way writer Taylor Sheridan's script is handled, we as an audience are forced to discover the mysteries of the story along with Blunt's character, so we share in her bewilderment as violence occurs all around her, and with barely a hint of disclosure from the Josh Brolin's 'maybe his/maybe his isn't with the CIA' task force leader character.
I also enjoyed the moody, grave-sounding score by Johann Johannsson. Along with Deakin's cinematography, and a steadily-paced narrative, Sicario maintains a sense of dread throughout its run time, making the moments of violence that occur that much more impacting.
At times, Sicario is a bit hard to follow, but as mentioned before, that may have been the case for the film makers as they want the audience to be with Emily Blunt as she discovers the true reasons behind the task force's mission. Benicio del Toro's character, a man with apparently no ties to any government or agency, is perfect as a man with a quiet indignation whose purpose for being on the mission is quite unknown.
Sicario starts with a bang, draws you in with its realistic approach to the world and the dangers it holds (a gunfight at the border, in particular, is one of the most tense, realistically badass shootouts I've seen in a film of this nature in a few years). While this film may feel like a less complex version of parts of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, the film is no less convoluted (for better or for worse). Some parts of the film are hard to process due to the overall secretive nature of the story, but by the end many answers are given and purposes beheld. Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro may very well be front-runners come Oscar time, namely Blunt for her connection to the audience, and del Toro for his raw, quiet power of a performance.
And give cinematographer Roger Deakins an Oscar already, damnit.
Since this is Oscar time, here are my guesses as to the categories this film will be nominated in:
Best Picture Best Director Best Actress (Emily Blunt) Best Supporting Actor (Benicio del Toro) Best Cinematography Best Film Editing Best Sound Best Sound Editing