Via an explosive FBI sting operation, Sicario introduces the audience into the brutal world of Mexican drug cartels, with Emily Blunt’s Kate not so much leading the charge as getting swept up in it. From the very beginning, Denis Villneuve’s taut thriller is an uncomfortably real exploration into the heart of darkness, through the eyes of its lead; an idealistic, by the book FBI agent, with elements of Clarice Starling.
Like the heroine of Silence of the Lambs, Kate is strong, capable and quietly independent, and it is for these qualities you believe she is selected for a special task force, put together with the objective of bringing down major drug cartel bosses, Manuel Diaz and Fausto Alarcon. The real reason for her appointment becomes apparent during her involvement with the task force. Unlike Starling, the evil present in Sicario is not restricted to one perpetrator, rather it is in every man that haunts the border separating Mexico and the U.S.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures the border setting perfectly with sweeping landscape shots of an endless dustbowl, giving the environment a feel of war-torn Badlands. Kate’s arrival into Juarez is punctuated by composer Johann Johannsson’s sinister dirge, that makes her journey feel more and more like a descent into murky waters. In Juarez she is greeted by the hanging mutilated bodies of those who crossed the cartels, proudly displayed in the harsh light of day. Jeffrey Donovan’s character, Steve Forsing expresses a begrudged admiration “It’s brilliant what they do…” further questioning the driving morale code behind every character.
The task force is headed up by Josh Brolin’s Matt and Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro, arguably the real subjects of the feature. Matt’s position is as a consultant, a role cloaked in ambiguity as to what his true duties are. Brolin’s character is first observed at an FBI meeting casually dressed in a pair of sandals. This is just the first indicator of a man who has distanced himself emotionally from the operations he involves himself in; he is merely a “consultant” who thinks himself righteous, despite his immoral actions.
Del Toro’s Alejandro, is, in essence the polar-opposite to Kate and Matt. He too has witnessed evil in a very immediate sense and has become the Sicario of the film’s title. To allude to anymore would ruin the experience of gradually understanding the kind of man Alejandro is.
Villneuve’s film is a pessimistic study, that while thrilling in parts can be difficult to watch due to its shocking depictions of violence and the nihilistic behaviour of its characters. Regardless Sicario earns its merits through Villneuve’s collaboration with Johannsson’s sparse but imposing score and Deakins’ unflinching visuals.