★★★★ / ★★★★
Only about a half a dozen movies come out a year, oftentimes fewer, that are written and executed with such surgical precision that one cannot help but hold one’s breath out of trepidation that it would somehow trip and lose momentum. Fear not: “Sicario,” written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a treasure that not once loses its shine. It is as clear as summer’s day that it is an all-rounder, one of the best movies of the year.
It tells the story of an idealistic FBI agent named Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) who is given the opportunity to join a team, temporarily, where she can make more of an impact in taking down a Mexican drug lord. She volunteers to work for an advisor for the Department of Defense, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), but she quickly realizes that something is amiss—beginning with a top secret trip to Mexico and an illicit course of action where lives are put in danger and taken away. She gives an ultimatum: To be given the truth and some answers or she will walk away.
Blunt fits the role like a glove. She moves so naturally, elegantly and yet there is a brittle toughness to her, as if she has something to prove. This sense of purpose is critical in order to convince us that the FBI agent she plays believes in what she does so wholeheartedly that at times she becomes blind to the complexities of the politics—politics of laws and government agencies, politics of land and borders, politics of ethics and morality.
Also take note of the way Blunt’s eyes always appears to be moving, often in a confused panic, searching for something. When I looked into those eyes, I saw a person who is drowning, struggling to make sense of where she is and what she is doing. In a way, Kate is us, the audience, in that she is new to the chess game of what is really going on out there. The character arc that Kate undergoes is one of the more subtle and wonderfully executed I have had the pleasure to observe and dissect in quite some time.
Like many exemplary suspenseful crime-thrillers, the picture knows the art of holding back on the score. This allows us to focus on the images—beautifully shot particularly feminine portraits in profile and wide shots of men in gear and their silhouettes. We hear barking of a lively dog. The distant chirping of crickets. The roar of jet engines. The whirring blades of a helicopter. The rat-tat-tat of assault rifles. The thud of lifeless bodies hitting the ground.
There are instances when words are not required to communicate a feeling. Sometimes, for instance, a barking of a dog functions as a foreshadowing. We must be alert to these sounds—and what they might signify—in order to experience and appreciate the film fully. Once the score is utilized, however, it creeps in, takes ahold like rheumatic branch and amplifies our concerns and fears.
“Sicario” is the kind of feature film I look for: the story and characters are designed for intelligent audiences; it is teeming with unsaid words and unexpressed emotions and yet we comprehend what the filmmakers are attempting to accomplish; and it holds up a mirror to our current lives thereby showing us what is wrong with it without coming across like a lesson or a lecture. The work demands attention and afterthought.