|'Feels in many ways like the Zero Dark Thirty of drug war movies, and that's no bad thing'.|
During its most tense sequences, Sicario is virtually untouchable as a work of cinema. Early in the second act, director Denis Villeneuve takes us on a harrowing tour of Juárez via a convoy of US government and Mexican police vehicles, concluding in a tautly enthralling showdown as the cars are in sight of the border crossing back into America. There are several chunks of dialogue-free action, during which Jóhann Jóhannsson's domineering score does all the talking needed. Villeneuve includes several of these gripping scenes throughout his film, each time demonstrating expert directorial skill to make matters utterly captivating.
Sicario feels in many ways like the Zero Dark Thirty of drug war movies, and that's no bad thing.
FBI field agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) provides a relatable way in for the audience, thrown into a conflict she soon realises she barely knows or understands anything about and which immediately forces her to question her sense of morality and law. Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), the man who brought Kate onto his task force with the "Department of Defense", offers her little in the way of emotional support, either jaded to the underhanded way in which he works against the cartels or, equally likely, never having seen a problem with it. His Colombian partner of sorts Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) only unsettles Kate even further, saying very little and revealing almost nothing about himself when he does.
Without the trio of performances behind these characters regularly providing the film's backbone, it's arguable that Sicario might not have stood out as it does, Villeneuve delivering a solidly made but somewhat by the book crime thriller. The performances make it the memorable experience it is. Blunt proved her military action abilities in Edge Of Tomorrow, taking things up a few notches further here with a consistently strong performance throughout. Brolin gets the blend of swagger, menace and intelligence just right, whilst also pulling off many of Matt's idiosyncrasies well - the first time we meet him he's in a meeting with FBI suits wearing a t-shirt, cargo trousers and flip flops.
Although Sicario is arguably Kate's story, the film slowly but surely belongs more and more to Alejandro through a stunning performance from Del Toro. Whilst Villeneuve's handle on the character wavers, feeling too bewilderingly clandestine at first, before removing a shade too much of the mystery surrounding him in the final act, Del Toro's performance is undeniably captivating from his first moments on screen. There is so much going on under the surface of Alejandro, so much that Del Toro hints at with incredible subtlety, that it's almost possible to forgive Villeneuve's occasional faltering with his most complex and fascinating character.
Sicario is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 8th October 2015.