While fitting into the trend of post-9/11 films that depict fragile alliances with supra-national actors, Sicario, the new film by Canadian-born director Denis Villeneuve, is a very unique, politically relevant picture that drips with small, important details that can only be achieved by one of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers.

Gorgeously shot, and powerfully motivated, Sicario is a small entrance into a world most of us don’t understand, revealing small crumbs of pertinent information through a character who doesn’t quite understand all that’s going on around her. This isn’t the Mexican drug trade popularized by AMC’s proudest drama ‘Breaking Bad,’ no, this is a much more honest interpretation. Sicario is brilliant.

We open our story in a suspected house of criminal activity. Idealistic, intelligent, and skilled FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) discover a house boarded up with tons of dead bodies and a bomb planted somewhere on the premises. Rather than being the work of some American psychopath, Kate realizes the implications of a growing drug trade in her community: members of the Mexican cartel have an easy grouping of routes to get in and out of the ‘States, allowing them to sell cocaine at a high price to the Americans.

After she successfully sniffs out the situation, a rogue agent related somehow to the United States government named Matt (Josh Brolin) brings her in for an interview for a very one-of-a-kind opportunity. While not necessarily belonging to a specific government department, Matt’s team, also run by hitman Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), is a freelance, undercover group that uses military and department of homeland security resources to combat crime at/around the border. Because they need talented agents, and also participants who give this barely legal arrangement some approval, someone like Blunt is important to their operation.

Again, we as the audience experience the revelations of this operation of taking down the drug cartel through the eyes of Emily Blunt’s Kate, a character that is purposely kept ignorant to some of what goes on. If some of the opening doesn’t make perfect sense, it’s fine, Villenueve uses very small tidbits of information to keep you informed, this is not a film that spoon feeds you. Yet, like his other films, while information is hard to come by, the concepts and visuals remain broad and powerful. He takes far-reaching plots with strong sequences, but does only a little in trying to keep the audience up to date scene by scene. Enemy and Prisoners were both like that in their own way, very restrained and trim in the script, but very broad and descriptive in the visuals. So much of what made Enemy one of the best indie hits of 2014 was the visual presence of the film. Sicario does this quite a bit, using small lines or small interactions/shots to make the film drip with purpose. So much is discovered beneath the surface, and much of it comes in the way of learning more about Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro, a beautifully complex and motivated character. An Oscar nod for him (and possibly Blunt depending on how things shake out) would be nice.

The final scene, although I won’t spoil it, is what finally puts this whole film together, in the same way that Enemy’s spider scene did, where the finality of the character motivations make sense. His films are very gloomy, and rarely do characters show a ton of change, this film is very much like that as well. It’s also violent, but violent in a tasteful way, not in an indulgent way.

Regardless of your preferences, no one can deny that the immigration issue, and its fallout because of the spread of crime that the drug trade brings. Villenueve and team do not make a specific point about this, but instead try to show a powerful thriller that focuses on the issue at hand and tries to tell a story about it, despite the possible slight exaggerations. This film may be an instant classic, and is clearly the best of the year up to this point.

 

5 stars

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