‘Sicario’ grimly compelling in shocking portrayal of U.S. war on drugs
In one sense, “Sicario” is much like the scene of an accident: shocking, uncontrolled, compelling to bystanders. At the same time, however, the scenario director Denis Villeneuve stitches together — a gruesome, eyes-wide-open portrayal of the illicit drug trade along the U.S.-Mexico border in which there may not be any good guys left — is perfectly choreographed, a master class in simmering tensions just on the edge of violent explosion. And what magnificent, corrupt, bloody explosions they are.
“Sicario,” with a screenplay by “Sons of Anarchy’s” Taylor Sheridan, never averts its gaze from the grim reality at its core: The war on drugs is hardly as one-sided as some would have you believe, and there’s no such thing as black or white here. Every issue is mired in searing shades of gray, and Villeneuve keeps you tense throughout this two-hour thriller of compromised morality.
We’re first introduced to Kate (a phenomenal Emily Blunt), a do-it-by-the-book FBI agent, and partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya in Arizona as they raid a suspected Mexican drug cartel safe house, only for it to turn into a house of horrors, with decaying corpses stuffed into the walls and a deadly trap just laying in wait. Following what’s only the first on many explosively disturbing scenes, Kate agrees to join a joint task force led by Matt (a sneering Josh Brolin) and aided by operative Alejandro (a chill-inducing Benicio del Toro).
The goal of the covert operation is to locate those responsible for that house of horrors, which requires Kate and company to travel to Juarez, Mexico, a place so torn asunder by drugs and violence your soul will weep. However, it doesn’t take Kate long to realize that Matt and Alejandro — the latter of whom could not be more cryptic if he tried — have their own agendas, and they both seem more than willing to take the law into their own hands to accomplish their objectives.
“Sicario” overflows with talent, yet Blunt and del Toro stand out above the rest. Blunt swings between engrossing intensity and calculated determination on the drop of a dime, showing us how much she wants to do right, but unsure if she can. Del Toro, though, simply oozes restrained ferocity, and as the story moves forward, you become more and more aware why his eyes seem as sad and terrifying as they do.
In the end, “Sicario” weaves together a tale of suspense, terror and determination so overflowing with reality’s grimness that you can’t help but to be impress — and maybe a bit depressed. Director Villeneuve’s gritty, brutal depiction on the war on drugs isn’t pretty or uplifting, but neither is the real-life scene on the ground. If “Sicario” can do anything about it, maybe it’ll help everyone realize just how gray life and its battles are.
Four “Who wants to vacation in Mexico now?!” stars out of five.