DIR: Denis Villeneuve • WRI: Taylor Sheridan • PRO: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Edward McDonnell, Molly Smith • DOP: Roger Deakins • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Patrice Vermette • MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Bernthal
After Prisoners, Enemy and the Oscar-nominated Incendies, Sicario seems to only confirm Denis Villeneuve’s rightful place in the pantheon of cinematic masters, and proving himself a powerful voice, not to be trifled with. Villeneuve takes you right through the belly of the beast, straight into visceral and cerebral uncharted territory.
Hair tied back in a tight bun, clad in black and navy uniform, and buried under body armour is Kate Maser. Assault rifle in hand. Fearless, stealthy, agile. Her eyes docile as she raises the barrel and aims, straight up in for the head shot. However, underneath the militant Kevlar hide there’s a distinct vulnerability to Maser (Emily Blunt). Through Maser, we’re ingratiated into the front lines of the US war on drugs. Tiptoeing her way down pitch-black tunnels and kicking down doors in the dead of night. Pure subjective psychological horror. Tonally it’s some mind-altering cocktail of Silence of the Lambs mixed with The Shining. And like those movies, Sicario, from the get-go, racks the tension high, unfolding by means of hypnotic slow release.
Anyway, after Maser’s involvement in a major FBI drugs operation in Arizona where a mass of bodies are discovered. She’s eyed for specialist assistance on a Department of Defence retaliatory initiative. A sorta high-end crackdown on cartels. Maser shows some hesitance, but when assured that she’s going to get a crack at the “ men who are really responsible for today.” she signs up, game for blood.
But it’s a labyrinth of agendas and motives, and Maser’s caught in the middle. It quickly becomes apparent that it’s some kind of smoke and mirror, cloak and dagger clandestine military operation. The kind where the legality of the whole thing is shady at best. Crossing the Mexican border into the dusty wilds of Juarez, to essentially kidnap a local drug lord, all in a bid to reveal the location of an arch Drug Lord. And Juarez is like a jungle of skeletal remains. Pure carnage. A world that’s built on a foundation of brutal violence. A living breathing hell incarnate. And from here on out the smoky morality of Masers world only gets murkier as the hunt continues.
Villeneuve expects nothing less of his battalions of thespians than to charge into cinematic battle, and to get down and dirty. Hand to hand combat is a mandatory requirement. Josh Brolin is the sandal wearing, seemingly blasé laissez-faire, Matt Graver, who’s allegedly DOD but who could be CIA? It’s never really clear to Maser. And then there’s Alejandro, (Benico del Toro) Graver’s Trojan wingman who’s shrouded in the same veils of mystery. Del Toro gives a demonic counter-point to his memorable turn in Traffic. And Villeneuve’s camera coils and recoils like a killer snake, slow and steady, spitting and biting. Fangs out; sharpened to a T. All in all making for venomous cinema.
Roger Deakins’ intoxicating cinematography has a sense of subtlety and minimalism that offers a heightened sense of tension and atmosphere that’s tough to argue with. Less is more, proving to be a motto to live by, especially when it’s executed this well. The vast isolated landscapes seemingly ensnare the characters in a world bigger than themselves. There’s a stylistic debt to Melville, Deakins admits as much, but truth be told it’s its own beast. Johan Johannsson’s score is nothing short of malevolent. Orchestral strings clash against electronic drones and waves, drum machines whip and snap against arid vistas; all too suffocating effect.
And when the dust settles, and the streets are lined with hanging corpses Villeneuve puts it to you. There’s blood on our hands, and if that’s what it takes can we live with that? Living in a world where the only code seems to be an Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth? Or is there another way? At its core Sicario is essentially an anti-war movie. Villeneuve reinvigorates these questions wholeheartedly. He’s got the rat by the tail and won’t let go. He pinches, till nerves scream and eyes bulge. How are the sides drawn, or, are there even sides at all? Villenueve serves the head, the plate, the whole damn thing, a lean delicacy of pure moral ambiguity. The lines between right and wrong are most definitely blurred.
Turning the screws just isn’t enough for this fecker (Villeneuve), he wants to put the nail through the coffin, splinters and all. Even if you resent the method, there’s little you can do about it, the man’s not to be messed with; he’s a cinematic powerhouse. The rare kind of filmmaker who paralyses audiences and glues eyeballs to screens; leaving a distinct taste of truth.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Sicario is released 9th October 2015