Legal U.S.-Mexico border crossing never felt this suspenseful
Sicario follows Emily Blunt, an FBI agent who is recruited by Josh Brolin, to aid him and Benicio Del Toro in combating the drug war at the US-Mexico Border. That is the entire plot of the movie and it may not sound too thrilling on paper. However, this is a perfect example of how performances, direction, and cinematography can elevate any premise.
From the opening shot of a still suburban Arizona neighborhood, quickly cutting to a tracking shot towards a house, creating a hole on the side of the residence by a FBI truck, this movie isn’t afraid to agitate the audience. The FBI finds dozens of corpses laid standing behind its warmly yellow painted walls. Although lifeless, the sinister music combined with Deakins cinematography brings these bodies to life on screen. This causes more of that agitation as mentioned earlier. The FBI, upon discovering these bodies, is shown immediately throwing up. Which helps to alleviate some of the audience’s own built up nausea.
From this opening we are introduced to the films central theme – violence. From the corpses, to depicting mutilated bodies, an off-screen torture, and finally the gripping final moments, which won’t be discussed any further – violence is a consistent motif carrying this film. The film doesn’t devolve violence into Michael Bay’s depiction of the word, but is more reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Collateral, where sound and realism play true. However, there is no comparison that comes to mind when it comes to its visual and graphic images of violence. This film is not for the fainthearted.
The movies main performances come down to Blunt and Del Toro; both of whom are outstanding. Blunt, who doesn’t understand the situation she has been put in, is experiencing a morally grey area of her life’s goal, winning against the cartel. Blunt’s portrayal of this character torn between right and wrong, something she struggles with throughout the entire movie, is fabulous, she is determined yet wavers. She is a representative of the audience, as they too are left in the dark about details of their fight and isn’t fully shown the full picture until the very end. However, despite these setbacks she endures, she is a very strong character and is able to carry herself in intense situations. Blunt does an excellent job showing she can play rough and is determined to do her job properly. Del Toro’s character is shrouded in mystery from the very beginning. He is introduced on the screen with little exposition, but immediately begs details. He carries this mysterious persona very well and all we know is that he is with the “government.” As the movie progresses and more details about Del Toro’s character are shown the audience starts to understand how powering his character is. Del Toro’s soft spoken character is able to convey a sense of comfort and threat. This is key to his character’s role and he pulls it off brilliantly. Not to discount Brolin’s character, who has the most minor part of the three roles. His character brings the comedy that this movie graciously adds for it’s audience and Brolin pulls off these lighthearted moments well.
As Hitchcock said, “there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” The director and cinematographer, Villeneuve and Deakins respectively, truly illustrated this quote with Sicario. Villeneuve, whose credits include Prisoners & Enemy, has proven he can add suspense and thrill to simple and deeply complex stories. Despite this simple story, this duo, coming off of their collaboration in Prisoners, brought tension and fear with their choice of framing, music, and pacing of this story. The audience is taken to a town near the US-Mexico border. They are shown the entire travel – from the eerie aerial shots to the border, to the frantic car ride to their destination, concluding with their gripping return journey. It’s simple sequences, like a car ride to and from Mexico, that engages the audience and leaves an impression. The stills below depict beautiful composition and blocking that these two created. Credit must also be given to Jóhannsson for scoring these painted frames, adding an extra depth to them. The audience will leave the movie knowing they watched the work of people who are masters of their craft.
Sicario is an excellent movie and a rare gem from the pixarfied Hollywood. It has great elements which lifts the bland story. From the performances by Blunt and Del Toro to it’s greatly framed shots from Deakins this movie has great talent in front of and behind the lens. It’s on its last legs for the US theatrical run, but if you miss it there check it out on your medium of choice when you get a chance.