‘Sicario’ a haunting journey


This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.

The movie “Sicario” is a thriller set along the American/Mexican border, where the violence of the War on Drugs is at a breaking point. After a disturbing hostage rescue gone wrong, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt, “Edge of Tomorrow”) is recruited by Department of Defense advisor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, “Everest”) and his partner Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro, “Guardians of the Galaxy”) to join an elite unit and bring down the men responsible.

A black and twisted heart beats at the center of “Sicario,” a film so bold in its ability to push the boundaries of the crime genre that it’s hard not to leave the theater uneasy. Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”) continues to prove himself as a skillful director, working with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Skyfall”) to paint a bleak and decaying world that is just as haunting as the events that take place in it. Every single moment of the film, from the dazzling action set pieces to the quiet and intense scenes of terror and deceit, will leave knuckles white with anxiety. It’s an outstanding feat how captivating all this desolation truly is.

However effective the violent imagery and narrative may be, the real genius of this film lies in the characters and the performances behind them. Unlike many female action protagonists, Emily Blunt’s Macer is actually written as a real and complex human being who is just as resilient as she is honorable and emotional.  She is a fox in a den of wolves, bringing a moral center to a depraved web of corruption and treachery.  Watching her eagerness to get the job done fade into horror and guilt over what she bears witness to is probably the most heartbreaking character development audiences will see this year, and it’s an essential part of why the film leaves such a lasting impression.

The scenes between Blunt and del Toro alone are pure Oscar potential, and it’s their outstanding work that elevates this film to art. Del Toro gives an equally magnificent performance that demands attention every moment he is on screen, making Gillick the most compelling crime character to come out of the film industry in quite a long time. He is the perfect foil to Macer, a man tortured by his gruesome past who has abandoned his morality for vengeance against the cartel the team hunts. Occasionally Del Toro will skillfully show glimmers of sympathy left in this hollow man, only to reveal his true nature when the film reaches its climax. When the real identity of his character is finally revealed, what ensues is a shocking and powerful political statement that exposes the potential dark side of America’s controversial War on Drugs and will leave audiences haunted for years to come. By the time that twist arrives, however, “Sicario” has already established itself as a classic. It’s simply the best thriller to grace the screen this year.

Ryan Ninesling