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Sicario Review: blunt and raw

Film: Sicario – blunt and raw

Emily Blunt is being lauded for her starring role in Denis Villeneuve’s raw and white-knuckle cartel drama but the real stars are Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Sicario follows FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she is recruited by mysterious government official Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). Kate voluntarily joins a task force without knowing its true objectives. Led by the intense and shadowy Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the team travels back-and-forth across the U.S.-Mexican border, using one cartel boss to flush out a bigger one.

The film literally reverberates and phases in and out of tension and relief. Its like you like down on a beach and let the powerful waves wash over over you over and over again. It inches you closer and closer to the ocean, swallowing you up with its intensity. It is a film that understands the raw brutality of its subject matter but isn’t afraid to show how dissensitised humans have become. The film features a whole myriad of violence, from dismemberment, to shootings, to torture to bodies stuffed in walls. It doesn’t pull any punches, it goes straight for the heart and it shows you every bloody detail.

Sicario is a triumph in direction. It is not often that one praises the build up to the action. Deakins and Velleneuve have worked together before and their blossoming friendship continues to reach great heights. The camera doesn’t swoop in, rather it spies. The camera doesn’t rush into the action, it lets the action play into it. There are two sequences – a prisoner transfer and a tunnel raid – that use the calm and the quiet as characters. The use of experimental night vision and thermal shots elevates this film from serviceable to very good indeed. This isn’t a film that comes to us. This is a film that we come to.

Sicario does have some issues. It loses itself in its sprawling Juarez narrative in some sequences and feels disjointed in others but when it feels like fading away, star turns from Blunt, Del Toro and Brolin drag us back in.

Brolin and Del Toro in particular steal the show. His calm and laid back character is an odd sight amongst the bangs and explosions of Juarez. He keeps that link with the audience but can be so delightfully stiff as well. Del Toro is the film’s crux. He plays Alejandro, the film’s wavering secondary subject, and is so cool in every scene. Del Toro chooses to play the role from his chest. Every line is seasoned, laboured and experienced. The character feels stripped away, bare and intriguing. And one cannot forget Emily Blunt’s central role. She embodies vulnerability and strength but it is her fragility in particular that magnetises us to the screen. Brolin and Del Toro may grab the plaudits but Blunt is becoming a powerhouse.

Sicario is a powerful and important film. It does not waver in its message nor does it waver in its violence. It slows down in its central scenes but an immense start and a triumphant conclusion highlight the power of Villeneuve and Roger Deakins.

Score – B+

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