Sicario Review - Nothing Is As It Seems In This Mature Thriller

Josh Brolin, Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro try to out-act each other.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… Nothing is at seems in Sicario. Heck, the film itself is deceptive as a piece of mainstream entertainment. It sells itself as a action thriller about drug cartels and, while there's plenty of brutality in there (expertly done I might add), it's operating at a higher, more mature level than the ilk it shares the genre with. The opening shot appears to be presenting a quiet desert town, only for it be swarmed by truckloads of FBI agents who discover a hell house that would make Jigsaw gag. They're led by Kate (Emily Blunt), who initially appears to be independently capable, but over the runtime is dragged out of her comfort zone and systematically weakened, almost like a reverse Clarice Starling (although that simplifies her arc and greatly overplays how being a woman in a traditionally male role is at the root of her troubles). She's picked to aid an inter-agency task force (led by Josh Brolin's Matt Graver) whose simple goals of tackling the cartel higher-ups it immediately turns out are anything but. That's all in the first twenty minutes, yet by then Sicario has already established itself as a movie where you can't take a single thing, be it Roger Deakins' operatic cinematography or intrinsic plot details, at face value. Everything in the film strives to further this unease. Kate always enters scenes in the middle of proceedings, constantly on the backfoot and not in possession of the full picture. Nowhere is this more true than with Alejandro, Benicio Del Toro's mysterious Columbian who takes a leading role in the mission. What his real goal is is kept purposely and repeatedly ambiguous, for both Kate and the audience, but as time goes on it becomes clear there's something going right up to the very semblance of law and order. Morality itself is not as it seems. To hammer the whole unexpected nature home there's a subplot running through all the FBI fun about a Mexican cop and his soccer loving son. Once again nothing is as it seems, but here it feels like the film's gone too far. It's too tangential and ultimately contrived to fit within the narrative, existing only to add another tonal beat to the finale. Maybe it was intended as part of a bigger subversion, but if it was it's not quite worked.
Denis Villeneuve has spent his English-language career belying expectations. You wouldn't expect a Canadian thriller director to choose to direct Prisoners and you wouldn't expect a movie about a child's kidnapping to be so unforgiving to all parties. Enemy was a film built on its very fabric being nothing like you expect. And now Sicario takes it further, bringing the ideas from his previous and applying them more literally and obliquely (so yes, if you need the endorsement, this is better than Prisoners). Who knows what Blade Runner 2, which he's attached to direct next, will be like. I first saw Sicario in Cannes where it stood out from all the self-reflective internalisation like a Columbian in an American operation, but now that only seems to be a further layer of its duplicity. It's a film that can successfully play to those wanting simple action and people searching for a more subtle exploration (albeit probably sit better with the latter). Do Oscars beckon? I'd say noms for Blunt, Del Toro and Villeneuve (and maybe even Best Picture given how expectations seem to be something the film just delights in exceeding). What's for sure is that we haven't heard the last of these characters. It's recently been announced there's going to a Villeneuve-produced sequel. On the face of it this is quite frankly ridiculous - the film's ending may not be happily resolute (another of the film's anti-establishment strengths), but it is a conclusion. How can you continue the story? Well, nothing is as it seems with Sicario.
Sicario is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas from 7th October.
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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.