Benicio Del Toro
reviewed by Tom-Tom
The name Denis Villeneuve may not mean as much to filmgoers as his various oeuvres Incendies, Prisoners, or Enemy. I have seen the latter three and can attest to the strengths of the director’s style which includes a weighted intensity and patient yet significant panning of the camera. The intensity isn’t moody as in a Lynch film, although it bears the same dreadful feeling of imminent threat closing in on the protagonist(s). He doesn’t set store with memorable dialogue but rather ordinary, albeit never repetitive or trite speech that provide almost a documentary-like feel as the movie moves towards its inexorable conclusion. After the late Autumn frigid forests of Prisoners, and the dingy brick buildings of Enemy, we now get the Southwestern United States in Arizona and New Mexico. Utilizing mostly darkness as a tool in the aforementioned films, here he uses blinding sunlight over the flat desert wasteland, a bit of a change in style, visually, for the filmmaker. The effect is more shocking as very early on in Sicario, we are shocked by threat lying in broad daylight.
It’s rather captivating how a routine drug bust so overused in TV and film today can have such a larger scope, build-up and execution here. FBI agents Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) )and her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) brood seriously exchanging a commiserable glance in the shadowy innards of the SWAT tank. Despite the closeness of the camera on the raiding law enforcement officers, the camera is never shaky, a method that Ryan Coogler used to great success in the recent addition to the Rocky franchise (and beginning of its own franchise) Creed.
We feel the vulnerability of everyone, including the suspects, and each shot fired bears mentioning. Unfortunately, a terrible secret is hiding in the house to which the team members react severely, looking on into space and dry heaving on the mercilessly sunlit tan yard. These aren’t mindless grunts, but real people to whom a severe death count is significant. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a weepy assembly of feeling sharing, but neither is it a paper thin shoot’em up. It feels closer to reality than either case.
The uncanny nature of the drug bust reveals the grand scale to which drug trafficking organizations go to consolidate their power. Agents Macer and Wayne are introduced to two wild card characters played with frivolity by Josh Brolin and stern intensity by the great Benicio Del Toro. Matt Graver (Brolin), whose aforementioned frivolity is demonstrated by the flip flops, Aloha shirt, and cargo pants early on seems to take everything lightly but there is a darkness and an edge in his voice as he knows everything but finds it all hilarious rather than depressing.
Alejandro (Del Toro), on the other hand, is quite taciturn, speaking to Kate with cryptic phrases just as, “Your American ears will doubt everything we do. But in the end, you will understand.” He is introduced as a former prosecutor in the Mexican city of Juarez, close to the Texas border near El Paso. Juarez, in the film, and in real life up rather recently, has been notorious for drugs and drug-related violent crimes. In a perhaps illegal move, a strike team comprised of mercenaries, Graver and Alejandro, and Kate drive a SUV caravan into the city along the way witnessing the exposure of corpses hung from a bridge naked and headless, limbless in some cases. One team member comments lightly almost admiringly, “It’s amazing what they do. Putting it up for all to see like that. It’s amazing what they do.”
The trip to Mexico and back is scored by Johann Johannsson, an Icelandic composer, whose lower brass and string score is a perfect fit for the barren desert wasteland separating Texas and Mexico as scene from a bird’s eye view. The melody is a sustained note which glissandos down, taking up deeper down and further in to the film. Johansson also scored Prisoners with similarly intense yet unobtrusive melodies.
The dark tone of the film takes Macer and sometimes Wayne to the end of the line after which Alejandro, introduces as a mere former public servant shows his real self to bring the film to a shocking and significant conclusion. Sicario is both entertaining as a mystery and action film and satisfying to the heart and mind in its commentary on the current state of drugs in the Border States. The performances are understated and great. The terror of the hidden tunnel between countries and the ensuing firefight viewed through Hi-Spec Night Vision glass, not the grainy green variety but one with which we see all clearly, is significant in the claustrophobic nature of its filming. One of the best films of 2015.