Director: Denis Villeneuve

Genre: Crime, Thriller

Release: 2015

SICARIO closes with a short yet thematically essential sequence in which a group of Mexican children play soccer in the cartel town of Juarez. As the camera tracks a boy, viewers watch him go in for a goal, but a series of gunshots distract him and everyone involved in the match, causing him to miss his opportunity to score. This is the thesis of Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 vehicle, and with that scene, he has officially ushered in the first best film of the year, much like he did back in 2013 with his overlooked gem, PRISONERS.

sicario paul dano

Being featured on Redbox wasn’t worth the broken hand

SICARIO is a bleak, grim, and fatally gripping piece of edge-of-your-seat entertainment, bolstered heavily by brilliant performances from Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin and Emily Blunt. Although the latter is utilized primarily as a surrogate to inform the audience of narrative progress, the film gives Blunt an opportunity to prove herself as a dramatic actress by forcing her to find a means of making herself sympathetic, without ever queuing the audience in with any expository backstory. In fact, viewers know next to nothing about her, making her a blank slate that nonetheless functions effectively within a narrative that is effectively nihilistic. Daniel Kaluuya is a little sidelined and feels mostly unnecessary in the greater scheme of things, but it’s easy to excuse when so much else is done right with the character writing.

sicario josh brolin everest

Josh Brolin’s all refreshed from an…eventful…vacation in Nepal! 

Not only is Villeneuve’s outlook foreboding, but it is quintessentially conservative, making for a fascinating take on a subject that Hollywood would often execute in the most progressive, politically correct way possible. Villeneuve has intelligently engineered his narrative in order to craft complex antagonists, making the battle a multi-layered series of conflicts of interest in which everyone is painted equally evil. Many might write off SICARIO as even being racist due to its depiction of Mexicans as criminals, but it never paints Americans as heroes, causing the entire process to come to a brutally existential conclusion.

fbi sicario

At least basic diversity training seems to have been implemented

The progressive argument regarding the drug war oftentimes revolves around the fact that it shouldn’t exist at all, yet SICARIO pulls up its bootstraps and makes the claim that the only way the drug world won’t run on the suffering of innocent men, women, and children is if one sole authority conquers the entire market. Villeneuve is not interested in showing how to end the war on drugs peacefully, but rather how to most viciously eradicate the problem. This approach arguably allows for the narrative to come full circle to a liberal perspective, consequently proving that the war on drugs cannot be won with force, and must merely be stopped through legalization. However, this is a realization that Blunt cannot come to, due to her deeply ingrained belief that the war on drugs must eventually work. As a result, the film allows itself to be viewed in two possible ways, either guided by commonly accepted liberal thought, or vehemently committed to the most metal way of cutting off the head of the snake.

Through Roger Deakins’s fine eye and attention to detail, SICARIO is easily one of the prettiest films of the year. It’s action scenes are loaded with momentum and tension, and the film’s first trek into Juarez is one of the most deeply disturbing sequences in recent memory. The final sequence is heavily reminiscent of ZERO DARK THIRTY’s climactic SEAL Team Six operation, but feels anchored by a certain narrative weight that was absent in Bigelow’s film. Every second of tension, whether at night or day, consistently plays like a downhill trip into the heart of darkness, drawing intelligent and welcome parallels to the religious iconography that is scattered around the Mexican architecture.

sicario roger deakins

All shot by the lovechild of Robert Redford and Mark Hamill

In addition to all of this, the soundtrack elevates SICARIO’s tension to painful heights, creating fantastically melodic drone tones in order to get under the viewer’s skin. Every scene feels charged with incredible visual and auditory detail, and every edit feels like it must have been fussed over in post-production until it was just right, leading to some absolutely mesmerizing synchronicity between sight and sound.

sicario action bronson

Action Bronson’s transition into film soundtracks was much better than MR. WONDERFUL

After his success with INCENDIES and PRISONERS, Villeneuve has proven that he is an absolute master of calmly analyzing the human condition and what we as a species are capable of. SICARIO is not only one of the most ravishing films out thus far, it is a hideously beautiful accomplishment outside of its 2015 release year. Unflinching, yet rooted thoroughly in being effective entertainment, SICARIO is a rare breed that manages to draw in viewers for popcorn cinema, only to turn the tables completely, painting one of the darkest portraits of the current state of the war on drugs.

Verdict: Recommend

"When I make love, I realize eating steak was the preferable alternative." Sergio is the Crossfader Film Editor and a film connoisseur from Romania. He pretends to understand culinary culture enough to call himself an LA foodie, but he just can't manage to like scallops.

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