Brian Viner, Film Critic for the Daily Mail
Verdict: Gripping thriller
A brilliant documentary, Cartel Land, recently chronicled the mostly losing battle that American law-enforcement agencies are waging against Mexican drug smugglers.
Sicario, uncompromisingly violent but stylishly directed by Denis Villeneuve, tells much the same story. But because it’s fiction, the law-enforcers have a much better chance of winning.
And because it’s fiction, there’s an attractive young woman, played by Emily Blunt, whom we first encounter leading a crack FBI response team into a suburban Arizona house where the cartel have murdered and walled up dozens of kidnap victims.
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Class A act: Emily Blunt as Katie Macer, who having established her credentials as an FBI ransom negotiator, is invited to join a shadowy taskforce
Blunt plays Kate Macer, who, having established her credentials as an FBI ransom negotiator, is flattered to be invited by the enigmatic Matt (Josh Brolin) to join a shadowy taskforce.
Matt seems to have a private jet at his disposal, and an even more enigmatic sidekick called Alejandro, rivetingly played by Benicio del Toro. Their mission is to venture into Mexico and bring an already-captured drugs baron safely to the U.S., setting up one of the best scenes in the film, a thrillingly tense car journey back across the border, during which Kate realises that whoever her new overlords are — CIA is her best guess — they are not averse to playing the bad guys at their own game.
Blunt plays the part splendidly. She showed her versatility in last year’s enjoyable sci-fi action thriller Edge Of Tomorrow opposite Tom Cruise, but this requires further layers of depth; she manages to be tough, resourceful, vulnerable and scared all at the same time. It is a really fine performance.
Villeneuve, too, is on top form. The French-Canadian director showed with his last two films, Enemy and Prisoners, that he enjoys grappling with moral complexities, and he does so tantalisingly again here. He also choreographs really good shoot-outs, even if an extended night-vision scene smacks just a little of a teenage boy on a sofa playing a video game.
The night-vision business prefaces another mission into Mexico, to find another kingpin, an even bigger catch than the last, and a man who murders people so indiscriminately that Alejandro says ‘to find him would be like discovering a vaccine’.
Blunt, pictured at the 68th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, where Sicario was screened
The denouement is truly exciting, strongly evocative of the brilliant TV drama Breaking Bad, while Del Toro’s character reminded me of Javier Bardem’s merciless killer in the Coen brothers’ 2007 classic No Country For Old Men. But Sicario is anything but derivative. And while Bardem’s killer was unequivocally bad, Del Toro’s similarly impassive Alejandro is much harder to work out.
As for Blunt, she got into trouble in America for saying, during a recent interview to publicise this film, that after watching a debate between Republican presidential hopefuls she regretted taking U.S. citizenship. It was a light-hearted remark taken absurdly seriously by some commentators over there, who went and urged people not to watch her movies.
Well, in the case of Sicario, that will be their loss, not hers.