The 400-Word Review: Sicario
By Sean Collier
October 5, 2015
It’s astounding that Sicario, the new thriller from director Denis Villeneuve, comes from a first-time screenwriter. Taylor Sheridan’s script is restrained, elegant and sparse — rare qualities in any thriller. There’s even a bit of narrative boldness in its structure, as the audience hitches its perspective to one character for most the film’s running time, then dashes to that of another at a critical moment.
In other words, Sicario has a really, really good script.
It has an incredibly compelling topic, too. We meet Phoenix-based FBI agents Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) as they discover a shocking crime scene in a house owned by a Mexican drug cartel’s local money man. Kate is swept into a cross-agency operation to track down those responsible; she thinks they’re working on a by-the-book operation to find the owner, but the evasiveness of team leader Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) suggests this is anything but normal Bureau business.
And that’s before we meet Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), who seems to have no country, no job and no past — yet apparent carte blanche on both sides of the border.
The cast is razor-sharp and relatable to a fault, even when engaged in ethically murky (read: disturbing) behavior. Blunt doesn’t waver for a second, despite a role that’s mostly new to her; when she is inevitably overlooked for an Oscar nomination next year, please be mad about it. (If anyone in the cast does score a nod, though, it’ll be del Toro, and it’ll be deserved; he’s terrifying.)
Villeneuve, previously of the equally-dark Prisoners and the Oscar-nominated Incendies, seems to regard the violence in his films so unflinchingly that it may as well be another tool of the form — lighting, sound, violence. This isn’t to suggest that he is numb to it, though; clearly, this is the work of someone who understands the horror of the ongoing drug war that plagues much of the hemisphere. He’s simply unwilling to flinch or shy away when presenting it. And that’s a good thing.
But back to that script. That Sheridan — best-known previously as an actor, with recurring roles on “Sons of Anarchy” and “Veronica Mars” — could produce this story as his first feature is truly remarkable. It bears the steely grit of a classic Western and the defiant reticence of a European arthouse classic. You need to see this movie.
My Rating: 9/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark