Forget the relentless killers with a machete or a chainsaw chasing teens through the woods. Don’t even think twice about those creepy young girls who scamper around the floor with hair covering their faces.
“Sicario” is the scariest picture of the year.
What makes this production from director Denis Villeneuve so horrifying is that the evil shown here isn’t a fictional character. The creatures that create such a deep, dark fear are part of the drug world that exists right outside our doors. Nothing creates a deeper sense of foreboding than being enveloped in reality.
Emily Blunt provides the average person’s perspective. Her Kate Macer is an idealistic FBI agent doing her best to stop the steady flow of drugs into the United States. She attacks the problem with a sense of pure justice.
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This changes after a tragic event. Even as she tries to adjust to what happened, Macer is assigned to a special task force run by the mysterious Matt Graver (James Brolin). He’s fighting the same war on drugs, except he no longer holds to the need to go by the book.
Also on the team is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a man of vague job references driven by an obsession to make key drug lords understand the true meaning of pain. He and Blunt’s character are bound by the need to make a difference, but they are exact opposites in their approach.
Taylor Sheridan’s script allows time for an assortment of views on how the war on drugs should be fought. Each argument rings true until the violent reality of this world raises its ugly head. Greed and corruption always trump compassion and concern
Villeneuve knows exactly how to layer the terror. In some cases it’s a slow build, such as a security stop at the border crossing between the United States and Mexico. The efforts to transport a high-profile prisoner attract the attention of a crew of killers who are in nearby cars.
The director never rushes, but allows this impending showdown to simmer and eventually boil over into a battle royale.
At other times, the horror is delivered with an emotional slap, such as a tense trip into Mexico where mutilated bodies hang like some morbid version of a piñata. This scene may be enough to ruin the Mexican tourist trade for decades.
One reason the tension builds so well is how the director offers two very different perspectives. Blunt handles the action elements with ease. The strength of her performance is the confusion, hatred and resolve she shows as her character slowly gets a realistic grasp on the scary world that exists in every shadow around her.
Del Toro is equally as powerful with his cool resolve hiding a simmering obsession for revenge. He’s one of the few actors who can turn a family dinner into a full-course meal of scares.
Brolin’s character has too much cowboy in him. His brashness seems a little too amped-up for a person who makes a living out of living a stealth life. It would have been better had his role been more of a blend of the characters played by Blunt and Del Toro.
That’s a small problem in a movie that should cause you some sleepless nights. Villeneuve manages to take on a storyline that often becomes a political entanglement and turn it into a clear picture of this dark world. The brutal and unabashed look adds to the powerful storytelling. “Sicario” presents the true face of evil.
☆☆☆☆4 stars out of 5
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin. Denis Villeneuve
Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Running time: 2:00.
Rated: R, for intense peril, violence, nudity, language, drug use.