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Friday, October 2, 2015

Movie Review: 'Sicario'

After a very slow start, Sicario becomes one of the best movies of the year.

Review by Matt Cummings

August and early September were some of the worst I've ever seen at the box office. But luckily, the Oscar season is approaching, with several noteworthy films having already arrived. Among them is the thriller Sicario which almost takes too long to get going. But once it finally does, it becomes a brutal, engrossing experience that is instantly worthy of Oscar praise.

Set on the US-Mexican border, Sicario introduces us to the Idealistic FBI Agent Kate (Emily Blunt) who discovers a grisly reminder of the Mexican cartels' power. Soon, she's whisked away to a intra-agency meeting with the flip-flop wearing Matt (Josh Brolin), who offers her a chance to find out who left her with a house full of corpses. Thrown into a hornet's nest of crime and violence on a scale she's never seen, Kate must decide whether Matt and his mysterious friend Alejandro (Benecio del Toro) can be trusted or whether they're part of the problem. The answers will shock Kate to her core, setting into motion a series of events she cannot control and that could ultimately lead to her own scandalous death.

Director Denis Villenueve continues to tell powerful and engaging (albeit bleak) stories as he did in 2013's Prisoners with all the skill of a cinematic master. He and Writer Taylor Sheridan envision a world on the edge of chaos, with the only difference between the villains and the good guys being who has the most effective killers on their side. The newcomer Sheridan fills Kate's world with world-class liars and assassins, whose only motivations are to give the drug trade to one cartel so they're easier to manage. That's a tough pill to swallow, along with the reality that this war on drugs is never going to end. Period. Sheridan puts Kate in the crosshairs of men who make it their mission to use up good people like her, creating a final sequence that's hard to watch but expertly crafted.

Everyone turns in solid performances, from the almost-sleepy-eyed del Toro to the flip-flop killer Brolin. They stand on one side of a very nasty fence, charred and beaten down with choices that alienated them from society long ago. Both take that side on with believability and a healthy amount of ego, pushing Kate to her limits on several occasions. On the white picket side is Blunt, who turns in a great performance as the idealistic FBI agent with has no idea of the world she's about to enter. Once she emerges from it, Blunt gives her all the looks of someone who's seen horrors that have permanently changed her. And even though she is our conduit into this world, Sicario really isn't about her. del Toro takes over this film about 3/4 of the way, exacting a special kind of revenge that might go down as the most disturbing of the year. To see him and Blunt share screen time is both a joy and an exercise in madness, with one having no idea about how dark the other truly is . That's the indispensable nature of the success behind Sicario.

The great cinematographer Roger Deakins also makes a powerful statement, lending his hand in crafting a rousing, sadistic vision behind the drug cartels and the seemingly open nature of the Mexican border with the United States. Even if such things aren't really the case, Deakins and Villenueve make you think it is: their universe is one of move and countermove, graying loyalties, dirty US cops, and an almost medieval way of dealing with your enemies. All gushing aside, however, is the fact that Sicario takes awhile to get going; and by that I mean almost 45 minutes. You are really placed in Kate's shoes as you wonder with her where she is going, what are her new team's motivations, and even pondering whether they can be trusted. But once those answers are revealed, you find yourself so deep into the story (and into Kate's rabbit hole), that it's too late to climb out.

Sicario asks tough, uncomfortable questions that might not have clear-cut answers. Can we win a drug war when the odds are so stacked against us? Is the internal system of corruption within our borders that pervasive? Rather than trying to answer these, go see one of the best films of the early Oscar run; you'll find yourself wanting to know more about a subject with no clear winner and lots of losers. Whether it deserves Oscar noms will depend on future releases, but in a vacuum this one deserves plenty of consideration.

Sicario is Rated R for strong violence, grisly images, and language and has a runtime of 121 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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