You know what? Even though I haven’t seen many of his films but from what I have seen of his work so far, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is slowly becoming one of my favourite filmmakers working today. Granted I’ve only seen two of his films (INCENDIES and PRISONERS), but they were both absolutely incredible films that instantly made me a fan of his work (as a matter of fact, both INCENDIES and PRISONERS both made my top 10 best film list in their respective years). Hence why I was very excited to check out for his latest film SICARIO, which was one of my most anticipated films of 2015. So did I think of it? Read on and I’ll tell you!
The film tells the story of Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a dedicated and idealistic young special agent who works the Kidnapping and Response unit for the FBI. One day while working with her team on a mission, they discover a large amount of dead bodies sealed in the walls of a house. She and her team believe that the bodies may be linked to local crime boss who works for a major drug cartel in Mexico. Not long after Macer meets government official Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who recruits her to be a part of a special joint task force that wants to bring down the cartel alongside the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). As she gets deeper into the mission, Macer discovers that not everything is as black & white as she thought it would be.
I should state that the is actually a lot more to the plot than what I just wrote abound but if I reveal anymore, I would have to go into spoiler territory. So I’m not going to do that. However can say that while I don’t think SICARIO (which means ‘hitman’ in Spanish) is quite on the level of either INCENDIES or PRISONERS, Denis Villeneuve’s latest film is still a terrific action/crime/thriller that I found to be dark, intense and riveting. From the very first frame to the last, this film had me hooked and I was compelled by everything that was happening onscreen. I believe it was all due to Villeneuve, who did an absolutely superb job with his direction. What I love most about Villeneuve as a filmmaker, is that he brings a ‘less is more’ approach when it comes to his films. Every scene, action set-piece and shot is handled is such a skilfully subtle way that it feels almost effortless but when in fact, it makes the film a much more powerful and intense experience because of it. Plus it helps that has both an extremely strong cast and crew working with him on this film as well to make of this work even more.
When it comes to the acting front, the film’s main three leads (Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin) all gave really great performances. Especially both Blunt and Del Toro, who had the most complex roles. Blunt is definitely the film’s heart and moral centre. Seeing her character’s ideals and by-the-book attitude being challenged during the course of the film was very compelling and Blunt did a fantastic job conveying that. Del Toro was also equally terrific in his role as “Alejandro” too. He starts off being a mysterious but as the film goes on, layers to his character come to the surface and it adds more dimensions to him. I won’t reveal what that is, but it’s riveting and intense stuff if I say so myself. Brolin’s grizzled character isn’t as flashy as either Blunt or Del Toro’s, but he still brings some good qualities to the role that make it very engaging. While the supporting cast (Jon Bernthal, Victor Garber, Jeffery Donovan, Maximiliano Hernandez) don’t have as much screen time as the leads, they still deliver solid turns in it roles as well. Also the script by actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (who starred on the TV show SONS OF ANARCY) is very well written. You can tell that despite wanting to make an effective action thriller about the war on drugs, he also wanted to explore some fascinating and thought-provoking themes too. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is, as you would expect, fantastic. Every shot in this film is just absolutely stunning and he definitely going to another Oscar nod for his work here for sure. Plus the score by Johann Johannsson was both beautifully subtle and intense. It’s definitely up there as one of my favourite scores of the year.
Even though there were a lot of great things that I really loved about his film, it does have some flaws it that stopped it by being a truly excellent film. As I said earlier that I thought that Taylor Sheridan’s script was very strong, there were some aspects of it that didn’t quite work for me. Most of them being in the 3rd act. I wont spoiler what happens in the film’s last half but there were some plot elements that were revealed that didn’t really make much sense to me. Prior to this point the film took a more grounded and realistic approach when it came to the story but once these reveals happened, that’s when the film started feeling very contrived. Also while the film does really good job exploring its compelling themes and ideas, there were times were I did feel that it wasn’t very subtle to when it came to some of them (especially in the film’s final scenes). Plus there’s also a subplot that involved a corrupted Mexican cop and family man named Silvio (played by Maximiliano Hernandez) that I felt didn’t really add much to the film(I understand what they were going for with it, it was just very underdeveloped) and the pacing can be a little too slow at times.
Overall while SICARIO does some little flaws that stop it from being one of 2015’s best films in my eyes, it was still an absolutely riveting and thrilling film that I was engrossed by from beginning to end. It’s a very adult action thriller that brings both the thrills and the intelligence in equal measure. If you enjoyed director Denis Villeneuve’s previous work or just crime films in particular, I think you’ll find this film really compelling as well. It’s pretty damn good if I say so myself.
– Bede Jermyn