Cannes 2015: Sicario Review - Expertly Realised Crime Thriller

Does for drug cartels what Prisoners did for kidnappers.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… Since jumping into the English language from his native Frenchtwo years ago, Denis Villeneuve has proven himself more than capable of tackling proven narratives from a unique and purposeful perspective. Prisoners was a kidnapped daughter thriller that leaned heavily on the familial effect and Enemy went further than any doppelgänger movie before it in exploring fractured psyches. Now with Sicario he turns his eye to border disputes and drug cartels, honing in ultimately on a sense of futility. It's a film that's at once tense and enlightening, without going preachy or losing sight of entertainment. Emily Blunt takes over from Jake Gyllenhaal (who will have to be impartial about the work of his two-time collaborator as a member of the Cannes Jury) as Villeneuve's protagonist, playing a FBI drug officer who becomes a part of a major operation sanctioned by the US Government (led by Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro) against the Mexican drug trade. This is the most overwhelmingly A-List cast of the festival and they all deliver; Blunt is a bundle of conflicting strength and vulnerability and Brolin is having great fun with a character who is inappositely laid-back, but it's del Toro who stands out, an ambiguous Columbian who's a dab-hand with a (always-silence) rifle, yet has an underlying hint of compassion. He's incredibly focused and sells both sides of the character (particularly at the film's climax), despite the fact that, when you think about it, his backstory is rather clichéd. Del Toro's role within the narrative is essential. When he first appears as part of the task force, there's a slight ripple of confusion - surely the Puerto Rican is a perfect choice for a maniacal drug lord, rather than a key figure trying to take them down - which plays perfectly into the film's wider clash of what's right versus what's feasible; like why Blunt's Kate has been picked for this job and what exactly the team is up to, his motivation is an underlying mystery with an unexpected pay-off. This conflict, and the seeds of its broad acceptance, is set up from the very first scene. When asked after a drug bust-cum-horror discovery Kate's asked what story to tell a superior. She responds, in what feels like an out-of-the-norm statement, "The truth". In fact, that opening, which kicks off with a wonderful shot of increasing numbers of SWATs closing in on a house, establishes many of Sicario's smart creative choices, most immediately the film's approach to narrative. It begins in media res and afterwards you repeatedly feel like you're entering an ever-bigger story part-way through. This helps keep Kate as the centre of the film and essentially distils the film down the five key sequences, with the story laced through them, minimising exposition dumps and allowing things to unfold naturally. The spaced out narrative gifts Villeneuve the time needed to inject style into a film that in typical hands would have been dominated by plot; blacked-out cars slink through the streets of Juárez on an illegal raid with grace and Zero Dark Thirty's nighttime raid gets a strong rival in the form of third act mission seen mostly in nightvision and infa-red. Roger Deakins frames this all with the measure you expect from him; wide-lensed landscape shots that highlight the sparsity of the backdrop are a real highlight, but the action beats, which the director builds up to slowly with plenty of tense calm before the storm, are smooth and coherent. A recurrent loud drone that persists throughout only adds to the absorption and dread. Villeneuve is attached to the seemingly inevitable Blade Runner sequel. Only a real sadist would wish that film into existence, but, based on Sicario, we can at the very least expect some expansive visuals and a story that doesn't spoon feed, which is a good start. Keep up with all of our Cannes 2015 coverage on the official page here.

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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.