Building on the momentum of her breakout performance in the action-packed film “Edge of Tomorrow,” Emily Blunt joins Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin in the drug cartel drama “Sicario,” directed by Denis Villeneuve. Blunt plays an FBI field officer tasked with joining an interagency task force investigating cartel activity, while Brolin and del Toro play two agents with ambiguous origins bent on dismantling the cartel. The Sonora Cartel, an obvious stand-in for El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, has stirred up violence on U.S. soil, prompting a response from U.S. drug agencies. The resulting investigation leads the team across Mexico and the Southwest.
Blunt should have portrayed a strong female lead in the mold of Charlize Theron in “Mad Max,” but her character lacks depth. She cracks under the pressure of the carnage she witnesses and bears the emotional and moral weight of the film. Once you’ve figured out her character’s emotional shtick, all her reactions and actions are predictable 10 minutes before they happen. One can’t help but question why Blunt’s character is weighed down by grief from this investigation, when she has surely already seen the worst side of humanity as an FBI field officer.
Del Toro, on the other hand, mastered his role as Alejandro, the dark, brooding agent with an obviously troubled past. The performance has made him a strong contender in the race for Best Supporting Actor in the upcoming awards season. As the movie progresses, what felt like cold indifference from Alejandro turns out to be the aggrieved precision of a calculating killer. Del Toro sells every minute of his performance.
Josh Brolin also provides solid support in a small but crucial role. Altogether, the film touts some good performances from established actors.
The script, written by Taylor Sheridan, is a departure from the regular shoot-’em-up drug dramas that have become all too prevalent in modern cinema. In multiple scenes, the film follows the daily routine of a dirty cop embedded in the Mexican drug trade. For this cop, delivering drugs isn’t morally reprehensible, but rather a perfectly sensible way to provide for his family. The multiperspective plot isn’t some new trope developed by Villeneuve, but a solid and unique way to provide layers of depth to a plot, in the mold of “Traffic” and “Crash.” But Villeneuve doesn’t stick with this multi-perspective method, so the sequences following the cop feel awkward and untied to the plot as a whole. Aside from this, Sheridan crafted a plot that jumps to the core of the drug trade and its effect on the Mexican people while entertaining the viewer.
Villeneuve crafts something wholly unique with this movie. “Sicario” is not a run-of-the-mill drug-trade thriller, since it avoids the romanticization of drug dealers that usually surrounds movies of its kind. The visceral shot selections and gripping action sequences attempt to demonstrate the true carnage of the war on drugs being waged across the border and now within the United States itself. The lingering shots of murdered and flayed corpses throughout the film imbue the viewer with a sense that the director will not tiptoe around the savagery of the cartels. Villeneuve also makes a point of showcasing the begrudging acceptance of average Mexican citizens toward the violence around them. They’ve been conditioned to expect the brazen acts of carnage displayed in the film. While the plot is a slow-burning affair, there are moments with genuine thrills and tense action scenes. Villeneuve builds on the success of his direction of “Prisoners” with this movie and showcases his developing flair for gritty, crime-inspired film direction. “Sicario” is definitely worth a trip to the theater.
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