Monday, September 21, 2015
SICARIO Hits Hard
- A gritty, brutal, bleak, and very badass film - SICARIO features a couple of oh-damn performances and a searing look at the messed-up world of Mexican drug trafficking. If it wasn't already a done-deal before, post-SICARIO there can be no doubt that Emily Blunt is now, officially, the queen-bee reigning badass champion of the world. And while it was sealed and written many years back that Benicio Del Toro was in the badass hall-of-fame, SICARIO is a timely reminder that Del Toro is capable of super badassery on a level that few others have or will attain. Suffice it to say, when Del Toro says "welcome to Juarez," well, you know that stuff is about to go down. And go down it does.
SICARIO casts Blunt as Kate Macer, and FBI agent who is selected to join a government task force assembled to covertly ramp up the drug war against the Mexican cartels. In the name of plausible deniability, Kate enters a world filled with smoke, mirrors, and mysterious characters. One such enigma is Del Toro's Alejandro - a deep-cover operative with a past, a guy whose casual, detached manner just barely masks a rage that burns within. Whereas Kate is a by-the-book type who lived and died by the FBI, Alejandro represents the shady element that the covert border-wars embrace. Kate's increasing disillusionment with the task force's take-no-prisoners tactics run in parallel with her increasing mistrust of Alejandro and his agenda.
Director Denis Villeneuve crafted a moody, atmospheric, and very grim film with his last movie, Prisoners - but Sicario really feels like a step up. The action is gripping and uncompromising, and he helps to craft a story with a number of jaw-dropping twists and turns. What I like about Sicario is how the film doles out character beats around Kate in a way that fleshes her out without ever getting too soapy. But what we do see is how the trauma and stress of her FBI job can follow Kate home - in more ways than one. As Kate journeys further into the heart of darkness, she experiences a crisis of faith in which the people and institutions she trusts seem to each, in turn, betray her. Similarly, we slowly learn more about Alejandro, and go along for the ride as his true mission reveals itself to us in bloody and violent fashion.
There are some other notable performances in the film - namely, Josh Brolin as a good ol' boy government operative who leads Kate's mission. Brolin also recently appeared in a similar role in Everest, but he's better here - as it's a more nuanced role that uses the actor's natural charm as a smokescreen for his anything-goes ruthlessness. There's also a small but crucial role for The Walking Dead's John Bernthal - one which takes full advantage of the actor's unhinged intensity.
Blunt turned a lot of heads in her fantastic, iconic performance in Edge of Tomorrow. Now, she takes that same sort of raw toughness and seamlessly transfers it to a more grounded, real-world setting. In some ways, Blunt's performance here reminds me of Jodie Foster's in Silence of the Lambs - a hard-charging, gets-$%^#-done woman who still finds herself in over her head as she confronts true violence and evil. And Del Toro - the deliverer of much of said violence - is at his best in this one - at the center of at least a couple of jaw-dropping scenes that will forever be emblazoned in my memory.
SICARIO is a hard-boiled look at the drug war and the high price it takes on cities like Juarez that have, because of it, become complete hell-on-earth ground zeroes for violence and death. It's also a look at how far we as a county and as a people are willing to go - how over the line we're willing to step - if those breaches can remain covert and away from the public eye. In the haunted eyes of Blunt and Del Toro, we see, poignantly, the scars. So prepare to be disturbed and maybe a bit shaken by this one - but also prepare for a hard-hitting, ultra-intense action/drama that is a must-see of 2015.
My Grade: A-