“You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.”
How many directors are actually capable of putting you on the edge of a seat merely by the shot of US shadowy operative vehicles across the US and Mexico border to hunt down one of the pawns of Cartel-Land with an almost sadistic level of suspense? The scene does not cut quickly but it stays on screen for quite a long time creating a paranoia that something might go horribly wrong. It jams a visual mystery that creates uneasiness, which you want to get over as soon as possible. Sicario has a string of such dark, murkier and almost subtle lyrical toned scenes that are stupendously unnerving and creepy at times. Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve, who rose to the fame after the success of Prisoners but wildly known for his masterpiece ‘Incendies’ among cinephiles, opens in a chaotic but fierce brutal assault on a compound said to be packed with drug-war hostages. This bravura opening sequence that has been orchestrated so deftly with the piquant of horror of dead bodies cemented in the wall like Egyptian mummies , will probably be one of the best action pieces of this year.
FBI Unit leader Kate Macer(Emily Blunt) is voluntarily whisked to a new shadowy ‘white alpha male’ US operative group whose objectives are quite vague but Kate wants to dig to the roots of a Mexican drug cartel kingpin instead of scratching on the surface. Before she can shrug off the horror of Phoenix episode, she finds herself in morally ambiguous situation that demands not only crossing the Mexican border ‘illegally’ but also her own ‘ethical code of conduct’.
While Kate questions one of the team members Alejandro( Benicio Del Toro), who is utterly calm & blank, about the functioning of their team, “You’re asking me how a watch works,” says Alejandro. “For now let’s just keep our eyes on the time.” It is ingenious caliber of Denis Villeneuve who has crafted such morally ambiguous character of Kate that actually acts like our eyes, ears and mind. We vicariously see the mystery getting even more starkly gloomier through the character of Kate. She stupendously enervating descends into moral chaos, which questions her own authority. What adds to her agonal trouble are that two mysterious characters of Alejandro and Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). Matt is a CIA drug cartel wise-cracker who wears flip-flop in the authoritative meetings, and his swaggering refractory behavior makes Kate suspicious of his intentions.
Benicio Del Toro’s character of Alejandro functions as a time ticking bomb, which can go off anytime and bring an end to the mystery surrounding his character throughout the film. He is reticent, restrained in his expression and observes the ongoing investigation like an eagle. But who he is ? What he is doing in the team and what he has to do with the whole operation ? “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do,” the mysterious Alejandro tells Kate Macer. Emily Blunt brings perfect amount of confidence, puzzlement and vulnerability to her character that helps in fleshing out the character of Alejandro and Matt one notch up. Not knocking the fact that Josh Brolin and specially Benicio has given the performance to ponder on. When the credit rolls , it is Benicio’s character that you might dig further while on your way back home.
While the story on Mexican Drug cartel is not new to Hollywood, even the plot in itself is not ground breaking. Besides superlative performances and characterization, Direction, cinematography and music are solid pillars of the film that elevates the film many notches up. Expressionist cinematographer Roger Deakins has framed every single shot with artistic intensity that gives even more bleaker and pensive look to already layered script. As much as cinematography infuses the mystery to every frame, it is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s jittery and ominous score that heightens eerie & queasy tone of the film.
Sicario is a straight-forward Hollywood genre movie that adopts a simple plot but thanks to Villeneuve’s deft direction, sterling performances from the three leads, masterclass cinematography blend with nervy score makes this film immensely engaging and taut thriller, that creeps into the psyche of three singular characters, demanding the question if breaking the laws and selling out the moral values, is an answer to fight a war.