Sicario review: This thriller starring Emily Blunt is dark, dangerous and exciting

Mihir Fadnavis

Oct 09, 2015 11:04:57 IST

Few of the 100 reasons why director Denis Villeneuve has emerged as one of the most exciting filmmakers of this generation:

a) He finds unconventionality in the most conventional story threads
b) His visuals are always stark and powerful, even in the simplest of scenes
c) Every film of his covers a different thematic and geographic territory
d) The protagonists are consistently fascinating

Those not well versed with Villeneueve’s work can find his new film Sicario as a fantastic primer into his filmography. It’s the most mainstream film he’s made to date, and even in such commercial space he finds the weird arthouse darkness that is synonymous with his work.

 Sicario review: This thriller starring Emily Blunt is dark, dangerous and exciting

Screen grab from the trailer.

The storyline of Sicario shares a striking resemblance to that of Apocalypse Now – the American military is having a tough time battling an unstoppable force – drug cartels in this case, and they organize a mission to send over an unlikely candidate to take out the head of the snake. The candidate in this movie is FBI honcho Kate (Emily Blunt), who is suddenly whisked away by the Department of Defense and put into a team of a super secret elite force that specializes in eliminating targets.

Here’s where Villenueve plays with the conventional elements. The mission is so secretive Kate is never briefed on her mission and what the elite force does. As she goes deeper into the heart of darkness across the border things get progressively more dangerous, and her total lack of knowledge on what the hell is happening makes things more insane. Villeneuve milks this tension with Johann Johannson’s throbbing electronic music and Roger Deakin’s beautifully grim lighting, escalating things to nail biting levels. Even basic scenes of a motorcade roving along a highway are thrilling, and Villeneuve even makes a traffic jam a heart stopping adventure.

Much like his previous film Enemy, an undercurrent of paranoia is prevalent in Sicario. There’s always a feeling of something bad about to happen. A scene shot in a tunnel with night vision cameras will make you squirm in your seats. There are top shots of Mexican landscape that look like Escher paintings. It’s mesmerizing stuff.

The technical excellence is matched by the universally terrific acting. For once we have a central character who is unabashedly the eyes of the audience, but her being kept in the dark becomes a plot point rather than a narrative convenience for the sake of mystery. Ultimately what she uncovers isn’t something shocking, but Villeneuve’s direction makes the weight of death and loss feel heavy.

Blunt’s character is also interesting on another front – her FBI honcho Kate is a strong female character done right. Mostly in films a strong female character is a woman who behaves like a man, however Kate retains her feminine nature in her strength. It’s a tricky balance to pull off but Blunt gets it just right. If you thought her Full Metal Bitch character from Edge of Tomorrow was kickass, Kate is a surprisingly different, and more believable version of a similar character trait.

The rest of the cast is equally good. Benicio Del Toro as a mysterious military personnel makes a nice return to form after years of doing forgettable roles. Josh Brolin steals the show with sardonic one-liners that sound authentic to the milieu instead of comic relief fillers. Like in Prisoners the fine line between ethics and exploitation in a revenge situation is explored to beautiful effect. It’s not often that a mainstream film makes one ponder over the side effects of actually stopping a war against drugs – first time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is going to be flooded with offers of making more smart thrillers soon.

If you don’t already know what Sicario means, you’re in for quite a ride. Those aware of its meaning can probably figure out the mystery early on in the film, but will still have a blast. It’s a win-win and a demonstration of deeply awesome filmmaking. The excitement levels of Blade Runner 2 being directed by Villeneuve and shot by Deakins have now increased tenfold.

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Updated Date: Oct 09, 2015 17:54:20 IST