Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Grisly Images, and Language
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya & Jeffrey Donovan
SICARIO is a movie that’s been gaining steam for a while now. Premiering at Cannes and receiving huge word-of-mouth, Denis Villeneuve’s latest thriller has slowly unfolded in a handful of theaters across the nation over these past two weeks. It’s now finally receiving a nationwide roll-out and I can say that this one was more than worth the wait. Violent, grim, and bleak as hell, SICARIO is one of the most original thrillers to hit in the past few years. It’s up there with NIGHTCRAWLER and PRISONERS. I can safely say that this has a spot reserved on my Best of 2015 list!
SWAT agent Kate Macer is on what appears to be a routine kidnapping raid when she discovers a house of horrors. This crime scene includes corpses in the walls and a bomb in the backyard. It turns out this suburban home from hell is owned by someone with ties to the Mexican cartel. Desperate to bring the monsters behind this grisly site to justice, Kate is recruited onto a special tactical team that aims to bring down a notorious cartel lord and his cronies through any means necessary. However, by-the-books Kate is not fully prepared for the possibly illegal and morally questionable areas that her mission will take her to.
If there’s anything to be said for Denis Villeneuve’s thrillers, it’s that they all maintain the same sense of suffocating unease. SICARIO opens with a disturbing bang and never lets up on its constant tension for the rest of the running time. This movie doesn’t give you room to breathe as it feels like potential chaos and violence could be waiting around every corner…and in this film, they usually are. Much like 2013’s stellar PRISONERS was a morality play crossed with a tense kidnapping thriller, SICARIO stirs up troubling ethical and moral questions with what, in any other hands, could have been a just another bombastic over-the-top action flick. Villeneuve’s brooding approach to every scene had me clenching my arm rests for the entire film. He also does something with a side plot involving a minor character that I truly loved, but I refuse to spoil anything by going into specific details.
As far as the cast goes, everyone is perfect. Adopting a convincing American accent, Emily Blunt portrays the story’s only voice of reason as Kate. As she encounters more and more horrific scenes in the escalating hunt for the cartel, you can see the damage that it’s inflicting on both Kate’s psyche and health. A similar transformation seems to occur in Blunt’s face as she appears traumatized, broken, and physically ill by the time the film hits its third act. Josh Brolin dominates every scene he’s in as the secret team’s questionable leader. You can sense of the scummy nature of this character from the minute you first see him and a smirking Brolin uses that to his full advantage. Benicio Del Toro plays Alejandro, the team’s mysterious second-in-command, and he’s never been better. Combining the characteristics of a rough anti-hero with the mannerisms of a certain Cormac McCarthy villain, Del Toro becomes a wholly compelling, sympathetic character with an absolutely terrifying side to him.
SICARIO might turn a few people off in its sheer darkness. This film is bleak! Seeing as it’s about a team hunting a cartel, you would expect some gruesome imagery. However, the attitude of which this movie treats those moments makes it so much more disturbing and brilliant. This is a film where a van full of characters drive by hanging mutilated bodies and it only results in a few passing comments, because it’s not out of the ordinary in hunting cartels. Villeneuve knows precisely what to leave off the screen as well, resulting in the implication of certain scenes being far worse than anything we could have possibly seen. The story goes into extremely grim places and that’s especially true of a final act that left me in a stunned silence.
SICARIO is an uncompromising masterpiece of a thriller. Fueled by stellar performances, a suffocating sense of impending dread, and a script that will have you thinking about it long after it’s over, SICARIO simply needs to be seen to be believed. Between this film, ENEMY, and PRISONERS, director Denis Villeneuve has become one of my favorite modern filmmakers. SICARIO is not only one of the best films of the year, it’s also one of the most thought-provoking and intense thrillers that I’ve ever laid eyes upon.