Them . . . Us . . . anyone who’ll turn him loose.
If you’re not on board with Villeneuve, get there fast. He’s now released a run of three superlative thrillers, all wildly different in style and tone. Prisoners was a grim, plodding film noir that dealt with morality, vengeance and faith; Enemy was a bleak, claustrophobic nightmare, an art-house horror film; and now Sicario, a nihilistic, brutally violent procedural about the warring drug cartels in Mexico.
This one is, like his others, a real masterpiece. Emily Blunt, an actress I always like (except in Looper . . . but then Looper is kind of an exception in a lot of ways, most of them bad), gives what is I think her finest performance to date as the FBI agent thrown in over her head, struggling to stay afloat in a world where even those who don’t particularly want her dead wouldn’t exactly shed any tears. It’s her emotionally raw performance that really sells the heart of the film. Benicio Del Toro gives his best performance in years, returning to the stomping grounds of Traffic, the film that first really brought him to my attention. But if the character he played in Traffic was a simple man, trying to find even the tiniest of victories to stave off despair, his character here is wildly different. He’s a man that spends almost every second he’s on screen revealing something new about himself, unfolding like . . . well, not like a flower . . . like a striking snake, perhaps, slowly uncoiling over the course of the film in a slow motion strike. He’s a deeply complex character and he’s not in the game for small victories. Josh Brolin is really solid in support as is a sleazy Jon Bernthal in an extended cameo.
But this film is just nothing short of phenomenally good. Villeneuve has a clinical style of direction that serves him well much of the time. In the opening sequences, in which a grisly discovery is made at a crime scene, Villeneuve’s camera calmly and coolly pans down hallways, past horrific scenes, through the sweltering heat. Later, a scene on a bridge is incredibly suspenseful, exactly because Villeneuve takes the time to set up the geography perfectly. But when violence does erupt, it’s hard, fast and mean. And the character work here is phenomenal. Word is that Sicario 2 is in the works and that it’ll focus more on Del Toro’s character. Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about that. The character works so well here precisely because he is a character on the fringes, doing little, saying less, until suddenly the time is right and he moves with unstoppable power. But I think where this movie really succeeds is in the relationship between Blunt and Del Toro. It’s in the power of that relationship and how it unfolds in the film’s devastating climax that Sicario finds its greatest depths. Like Prisoners and Enemy, this film transcends its simple genre classification because of the beautiful character work, both in the script and the performances. The film has a dead perfect ending and it’s no spoiler to say that I hope that the only character from this film that shows up in the next one is Del Toro’s. It’s a brilliant, brilliant thriller, a great, sharp character study, a thought-provoking morality tale. It’s a classic for all time. 4 stars.
tl;dr – another thrilling masterpiece from Villeneuve; great performances and a layered, intelligent script create both gripping suspense and evocative character-based drama. 4 stars.