Sicario explores consequences of international drug trade

Sicario explores consequences of international drug trade
Richard Foreman

With the summer blockbuster season past us, October can be a lackluster time for the movie business, unless you are director Denis Villeneuve. Over the past several years, he has carved himself a niche among Hollywood directors with sleeper hit Prisoners and misunderstood but highly regarded Enemy. His latest effort, Sicario, should secure his place among Hollywood’s elite.

Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) is idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer, and Josh Brolin (Everest) gleefully portrays ambitiously seedy agent Matt Graver. Benicio Del Toro’s steely performance as “bird dog” Alejandro rounds out the main trio.

The biggest risk film studios take with summertime popcorn fare is they don’t take risks at all. Movies need only to be bigger and brighter and relegate edgier films to the outlands of fall. Admittedly, Sicario is for everyone — it is not glossy or filled with special effects, but it is a must-see.

From the start, Villeneuve immerses audiences in a reality no one, including the female protagonist, yet knows about. Using a combination of aerial, satellite and thermal and surveillance-style imagery, the director unapologetically takes viewers into a world that feels and looks alien and displays the surreal sociological and physical landscape of Juarez, Mexico.

Movies like this can leave an audience feeling bleak due to their tactical, almost military, style, but through the disarming eyes of Macer, we see how confusing and incredibly violent the international drug trade is. Sicario illustrates the impact that world has on its participants and their families on both sides, leaving theatergoers feeling empathetic for all involved.

The film’s detractors say its brutality and Orwellian overtones — as well as the cyclical futility of using “bad guys” to eliminate the “worse guys” mentality — are things we have seen before. However, this film makes it easier to tolerate heavy-handed political commentary and see Sicario for its well-crafted story, brilliant cinematography, colorful characters and standout performances, most notably Del Toro’s.

He is never afraid to play morally conflicted (Traffic) or villainous characters (Savages), and his Alejandro is a quiet, ever-watchful bodyguard to Graver; without uttering of a single line of dialogue, he immediately portrays intensity. As interactions with Macer increase, an emotional attachment occurs just underneath his precise façade, yet the question remains: To what end? Del Toro pulls off the perfect anti-hero hat trick.

His performance in Sicario is a combination of the moral conflict of Javier Rodriguez from Traffic and the violent precision of mob enforcer Lado in Savages with a sprinkling of lovable mumbling gangster Fenster in The Usual Suspects.

The well-chosen cast and brilliant writing of Taylor Sheridan make Sicario a hit.

Print headline: Hit, man, Sicario explores the consequences of the international drug trade and makes an excellent movie in the process.

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