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With: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Bernardo Saracino
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, grisly images, and language
Running Time: 121
Date: 09/25/2015

Sicario (2015)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Fighting Fire with Fire

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Summer is over, and awards season is looming. With it comes Sicario, a movie that looks like it's going to preach about the evils of the world, just as previous Oscar-winners Traffic, Syriana, and Crash did. Fortunately, Sicario is something entirely different, bold and brilliant.

Directed by the French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners) and with cinematography by the great Roger Deakins (Skyfall, True Grit), Sicario looks and sounds nothing like you'd expect.

It's an observant movie; it watches, waits, takes stock of what's going on, but rarely answers any questions or explains anything.

It begins in Arizona, where FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) raid a house and discover, nailed up behind the sheetrock, a number of decomposing corpses. That's gruesome enough, but while poking around, other officers trigger a booby-trapped explosive.

At headquarters, the leader of a new task force, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) recruits Kate for a new mission, one that will allow her to actually get the bad guys, the Mexican drug lords, rather than clean up messes.

This mission has the feel of a first day on a new job. Everything is totally unknown, and Kate, surrounded by men twice her size, stays on her guard, refusing to appear confused or uncertain.

Though Kate is told their destination is Texas, she is actually taken to Mexico, where her team begins shooting at random suspects near the border.

She also meets the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who keeps to himself, but seems to carry some kind of sad wisdom; all these performances are exemplary, but Del Toro's is exceptional.

Occasionally Kate gets angry and wants to know what's going on; in one scene, she confronts Matt, while cinematographer Deakins holds a wide shot, framing the two in full, for a weirdly long time. Afterward, the dramatic tension has shifted, but very little has been revealed.

Making his screenwriting debut, actor Taylor Sheridan (Sons of Anarchy), is also to be commended.

Another of the things that makes Sicario great are the occasional scenes of a Mexican policeman at home, having breakfast, spending time with his son, etc. These scenes have no narrative purpose, although, eventually, their emotional purpose is revealed.

Indeed, without tipping its hand, the movie generally fixates on human frailties, such as hunger or exhaustion, a need for companionship, or the difficulty of navigating a tight space.

Its conclusion has less to do with the drug trade than it does human foibles. Thus, Sicario can be relentlessly cynical, but it's also mesmerizing, and exhilarating.

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