By Ciaran Kovach
If the point of a great thriller is to present an audience with an engrossing story, interesting characters and scenes of nail biting tension, ‘Sicario‘ is most definitively a great thriller.
Starring Emily Blunt as the promising and idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer, ‘Sicario’ tells the story of Macer’s journey to the darkest side of the US ‘War on Drugs’. Caught up in a web of black ops intrigue and constantly under threat from a ruthless cartel, Macer and her partner Reggie (played by Daniel Kaluuya) very much descend into the heart of darkness that is the frontline of ‘The War on Drugs’.
If I were only allowed to say one thing about this film, it would be that the scenes designed as heights of tension are some of the best I have ever seen. An excellent, engaging feeling of tension runs through the film from the very beginning to the very end, but during the scenes of true tension (of which there are many!) the intense acting and excellent use of both picture and sound makes for some truly heart stopping scenes.
With regards to acting, there is excellent acting across the board. Kate Macer’s constantly increasing sense of entrapment and unease as the film progresses comes across as very genuine. Benicio Del Toro (Alejandro) and Josh Brolin’s (Matt Graver) characters play their roles as mysterious plot drivers perfectly, revealing themselves to the audience slowly and smartly, keeping the audience engaged with both their characters and the plot throughout.
The plot of the film itself is very good. The writer (Taylor Sheridan) makes the excellent and rather unexpected decision to add a sub-plot involving a Mexican policeman and his family that runs parallel to the main plot. This sub-plot functions as a way of keeping the audience from becoming so engaged with the intrigue of Kate Macer’s story that they forget the human element of the film’s subject, that of ‘The War on Drugs’. When the plots finally overlap, it has an excellent impact on the audience. The intrigue that dominates the film is excellently written, with numerous great twists and turns. The plot does suffer one or two weak points with regards to Kate Macer herself for much of the film however. For much of the film it feels like she is simply being dragged along by the group of guys who seem to consider her something of a liability despite the fact that it is made plain that her presence is significant.
The film’s respectable number of action scenes are commendable, being punchy and making excellent use of the tension that runs throughout the film. There are no action scenes that can be regarded as highly exciting or spectacular, but this is largely to the film’s benefit as such action scenes would endanger the grounded feeling that the film works hard to cultivate.
Finally, with regards to the setting, ‘Sicario’ succeeds in creating a setting that is both grounded and engaging. The film very quickly establishes the sophistication and brutality of the Mexican drug cartel and imbues the audience with a dread of them that holds throughout the film. The highly militarized and morally questionable fashion through which Kate’s anti-cartel team goes about their work (similar to actual US practises, if exaggerated in some instances for dramatic effect) succeeds in preventing a uninspired good-bad dichotomy. For those aware of the nasty, cynical and unending nature of the US ‘War on Drugs’, the film certainly succeeds in showing it in a stark and disturbing relief.
To conclude, I would say that ‘Sicario’ is a breathtaking crime-thriller. I mean this in a rather literal sense, myself having felt rather breathless leaving the cinema as a result of me holding my breath for much of the film.