...It's very good indeed, but is it the story revelation we hoped it would be?
Denis Villeneuve directs with a really intimate, visceral style that puts you right in the environment alongside Emily Blunt's capable-yet-green Kate Macer (she’s almost an avatar for the audience), and this hyper-real approach generates a palpable sense of tension rarely seen so effectively. The performances, as expected, are excellent. Josh Brolin is in full swagger as the cavalier yet driven seen-it-all agent who’s employers are implied but never really specified; Blunt does some of her best work ever, as a tough as nails, slightly naïve, yet destined for greater things FBI agent (Clarice Starling comes to mind several times); and Daniel Kayluula is likeable as her FBI BFF. But it’s Benicio del Toro that really shines here; and while his presence is introduced slowly, he ends up owning the movie.
In all technical aspects, the film is flawless. Roger Deakins' cinematography is sublime, from the breathtaking aerial shots to the claustrophobic corridors and night-missions- his camera work is hugely imersive. But combining that with Johann Johannsson‘s striking film score is a match made in heaven (or more accurately- hell). That tribal drumbeat that accompanies anything unpleasant really adds to sense of dread. It calls to mind elements of Brad Fidel’s ominous Terminator 2 score; a seemingly unnatural sound that instinctively invokes a sense of heart-racing anxiety.
These are especially effective in the enthralling opening scene; one of the most potent first acts of a film I’ve seen in a while. We’ve seen harder and gorier stuff, but the way it’s presented here feels so real one almost feels nauseous. The tension is wound tight again during the climax of the second act;. Gripping stuff.a nail-biting highway stand off that climaxes in a deafening hailstorm of bullet blasts and windscreen splatters
So it's all the more frustrating for me that Villeneuve seems to release his grip entirely during the third act, allowing all that tension to just bleed away. Very little seems to happen for what seems like a long time. We see that Blunt's character is conflicted, but her dilemma is never really properly explored. This is a problem when we are meant to empathise with her. She discovers. This affects her so badly she wants to walk, and even expose them. But why? Why should we (or her) be surprised atthat she’s a pawn in a clandestine deal between the CIA and the Colombians to take out the Mexican CartelIt all hinges on her ‘idealism’. As a result, the slower scenes focus on her losing faith rather than show the audience what they’re actually up against.the US government getting into bed with bad people in order to achieve a goal? Is at all revelatory? It might have made more sense if she’d lost something along the way. What if her partner was killed in the line of fire? What if some innocent people were killed during the mission? Perhaps she once lost someone she loved to the Colombian cartel they are helping? None of this is the case.
Silence of the Lambs showed us a similar kind of FBI learning curve (only with serial killers rather than drug cartels). The difference is, SOTL intercut Clarice's story with that of Buffalo Bill and the kidnapped girl. In Sicario there is no secondary perspective or race-against time to drive the narrative. As a result it can sometimes feel moderately unengaging.
Fortunately the final act ramps up the tension once again and del Toro's character takes center stage- in a closing scene that might leave you reeling. And it’s not an easy ride. This is John Wick for grown-ups.
There’s a bleak futility in the closing scenes. We end with. There are no happy endings here, but what did you expect from a film designed to be this close to the bone?dead families; disillusioned law enforcers; and orphaned children growing up to the sound of gunfire
In the end, Sicario is an expertly crafted thriller that is superbly performed; often thrilling; but not quite as roundly satisfying as it could have been. For 'along-for-the-ride' drama, End of Watch is still a more enjoyable study of real-life crime.[/spoiler]