Denis Villeneuve's film views life in the age of the modern-day drug war as an ever-crescendoing existential nightmare.
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Though Villeneuve magnifies the pervasive dread surrounding the modern drug war, he's better at conveying the thrill of creeping through that battlefield than the complex set of interests sustaining it.
Sicario is an ambush, a low-slung film about a dirty drugs war with Mexico which challenges and engages in equal measure. It moves with grim tenacity, confounding expectations until its very final sequence.
Sicario starts and ends with Blunt’s impassioned performance (and she's spectacular in her final scene), but it’s Del Toro who is the real standout.
Amazing to look at, amazing to listen to, yet just a bit underwhelming to really think about, Sicario Denis Villeneuve's Mexican drug cartel drama is superlatively strong in every conceivable way except story.
Each set piece is orchestrated with aplomb - a raid on a tunnel under the border being a particular stand out - but Sicario is kept grounded in reality. Villeneuve keeps his focus tight on his small group of characters and though the plot is complex, it fits the Byzantine intricacies of the problem and the obscure motivations of the operators.
Blunt’s performance has an edge of steel. She brings off a mix of confidence, bewilderment and vulnerability, which functions very well against the alpha male characters higher up the chain of command.
The opening of Sicario unfolds at such an anxiety-inducing pitch that it seems impossible for Villeneuve to sustain it, let alone build on it, but somehow he manages to do just that. He’s a master of the kind of creeping tension that coils around the audience like a snake suffocating its prey.
There’s not much fault to find with Sicario on the level of craft or performances, just its rather sputtering momentum, and the lack of a higher purpose.
The violence of the inter-American drug trade has served as the backdrop for any number of films for more than three decades, but few have been as powerful and superbly made as Sicario.