Monday 5 October 2015

Zurich Film Festival - Sicario

Sicario (121 mins)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent whom we first meet discovering a house full of dead bodies as she leads a kidnap response team working in Arizona.

Catching the eye of her superiors, she volunteers for a cross-agency task force taking on Mexican drug cartels. This brings her into contact with another pair of agents (Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro), who may be DEA or CIA or something else entirely, such is their reluctance to share information with Kate.

They take her into Mexico where she’s thrown into the midst of a big operation with no clue what she’s getting into or with whom. It’s as an expose of the grim reality of the effect the drug trade has had on Mexico where Sicario really scores, sparing no punches in showing the violence and vengeance tearing apart a country overrun with criminality.

Of slightly less interest is Macer’s concern that they have no jurisdiction over the border and that her two associates seem to have agendas of their own, and the question of motives and trust hangs over Sicario. The title comes from the Mexican word for hitman and it’s a solid and grown up drama, muscular and hard hitting.

Other than one very well staged shootout, much of the first hour is Kate shadowing and learning and events are seen through her eyes as she observes and questions. The tension comes from her and us not knowing anything though it starts to labour that point a bit in the middle, but there’s always a feeling that everything is under control and it’s heading in the right direction.

The problem is we’re led in to it in the belief that it’s Macer’s movie when in fact many of the best scenes feature Brolin and Del Toro, with the latter in particular growing to dominate the story. And a question begins to surface of whether Macer is actually much of a character and not simply something of a sideshow in a bigger picture, a passenger in her own movie. In many ways that’s fine, because fortunately the men played by Brolin and Del Toro are highly compelling, and this trio of excellent performances carries it through.

As an exercise in finely tuned craftsmanship, Sicario is certainly very impressive, and Denis Villeneuve continues to be a director to keep an eye on. There’s no real template for what it is as a movie, being very much its own beast which is definitely a good thing.

If it’s a standard cops and drugs thriller you’re after then Sicario is not that kind of movie. But if you go in prepared for something other than what you might be expecting then there’s a lot to take away.

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