Minutes into crime thriller Sicario and you’ve excelled past the intensity of most films that have come before it this film calendar year. Despite the introductory remarks of sicario meaning ‘hitman’ in Spanish, nothing can prepare you for the multitude of decaying bodies that lie in the walls of a recently FBI-invaded home, displayed moment in to the opening sequence of a film you know will never let up. Instantly setting the tone and atmosphere that rarely falters throughout the Emily Blunt led piece, you stumble in to a gripping two hours of edge-of-your-seat tension and tautness that works well, most of the time.
Kidnapping agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) are among the FBI team that discovers the putrefying corpses in the wall, minutes before an IED explodes, increasing the body count further. Volunteering to track down those responsible for the deadly discover, Macer joins undercover CIA officers Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and associate Alejandro Gillick (Benico del Toro) for a drug cartel crackdown that threatens to control Mexico once and for all. Synonyms with drug problems, Mexico becomes the perfect landscape for the narrative – offering an authenticity and indisputability backdrop for the 121 minutes of gripping twists and turns.
Allegiance is forever questioned, prevalent alongside the film’s other themes of corruption and violence. It’s hard hitting from the start but knows what it wants to be; offering a strong direction, enhanced by director Denis Villeneuve’s decision of prolonged shots and angles that shape the film’s engaging nature. A traffic jam, with guns either side of the convoy carrying prisoner-come-hostage, is a perfect example of how brilliantly the director strings out sequences to almost exhausting rigidity, aesthetically reflecting the tension through the length of the scenes. Intercut scenes of bodies hanging from bridges – stripped naked and beaten – deepen the root problem the film explores.
Emily Blunt and Benico del Toro shine as the centerpieces of the film. Blunt carries the emotional resonance that is required in such a heavy setting, while Del Toro offers a mystery and enigmatic approach that keeps audiences captivated. By the time the final credits roll following a stand-off between two central characters, a prognosticate air looms over, harbingering future difficulties in the narrative of these characters, you still cannot come up for air – the film refuses to let go once it has you, a sign of a clever, insightful film that has paid off.
But my problem lies in that I didn’t LOVE the film. For all its triumphs – a brilliant aesthetic direction, relentless tension and two great leads – the film was clever almost to a fault. I wanted supporting characters to be built with more complexity; I wanted to care about them more. I wish the decaying bodies sequence was explained – whilst it shaped the film’s aims and goals, it was almost swept under the rug – I wanted more depth to it. It was such a gripping opening that little other than the previously discussed scenes and climatic ending lived up to it. I was constantly wanting more from it. It was almost too shrewd for its own good.
Summary: Taut and tense, Sicario is worthy of an Oscar nomination for its two leads, but becomes too clever to a fault, often leaving you with too many questions to be thoroughly enjoyed as the ideal crime thriller it very nearly is.
Highlight: The intensity built throughout the film is astounding. Even when it pauses, you are waiting with baited breath.