The other night I watched Sicario on Prime Video for the third or fourth time and while I didn’t forget what an amazing film this was I was reminded how great this movie truly is. I remember reading about it months before it came out. Director Denis Villeneuve was coming off of Prisoners (one of my all-time favorites) and when I saw the plot description and cast I immediately had it circled as one of my most anticipated films of 2015. I saw it on opening night and it was one of the few times where a movie exceeds the unrealistic expectations you set for it. It was a hit with critics and audiences, picked up a few Oscar nominations, churned out a (hand up) little-seen sequel, then slowly faded away into syndication and its largely felt forgotten ever since.
For those of you unfamiliar, Sicario is about an FBI agent (Emily Blunt) being taken under the wing of a charismatic Department of Defense contractor (Josh Brolin) leading a task force to target one of the biggest cartel leaders in Mexico. The cast also includes Benicio Del Toro as a mysterious hired gun, a pre-Get Out Daniel Kaluuya as Blunt’s partner, and also renowned character actors Jon Bernthal, Jeffery Donovan, and Victor Garber. The killer B’s of Blunt, Brolin, and Benicio are all at the top of their game in this one, del Toro in particular I feel has never been better.
This was Villeneuve’s third American release following 2013’s Prisoners and Enemy. Prior to that the Quebec native had spent a decade or so hammering out French films, most notably Incendies in 2010, which picked up a nomination for Best International Film. Enemy didn’t move the needle but Prisoners gained a lot of critical acclaim and put him on a lot of American’s radars. Sicario firmly established him as one of the most interesting directors in the business. He’d go on to become the modern master of sci-fi with Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and the reboot of the Dune franchise. In my opinion, Villeneuve is the greatest director of the last 10 years. Prisoners is definitely my favorite film of his and Enemy is definitely at the bottom but after that, Sicario included, it’s a total toss up how the rest of that list shakes out.
One of the biggest reasons why Villeneuve has had the success he’s had is the people he’s surrounded himself with. Yes, he’s worked with some incredible casts but it’s the people behind the camera that make these films what they are. Case in point, cinematographer Roger Deakins. The greatest living cinematographer has worked with Villeneuve on three occasions, Prisoners, Blade Runner 2049, for which he received his long overdue first Oscar, and Sicario. Taking a look at this film there are too many shots and sequences that blow you away. There’s plenty of beautiful landscape shots throughout but there’s two scenes in particular that stand out to me. One, the raid on Juarez. After an American convoy crosses into Mexico we follow them through a claustrophobic ride through the mean streets of Juarez, highlighted by a shot of dismembered bodies hanging from an underpass. The way Deakins is able to follow the action both from the air and in the cars is simply masterful. When the convoy comes to a sudden stop while trying to re-enter America there is an incredible shootout sequence that takes place in the middle of a traffic jam. To me this is the best scene in the movie. I mean, look at this shit:
The second sequence is a simpler shot. At dusk, Matt (Brolin) takes Kate (Blunt) on the roof of his building a shows her a “fireworks show” over Juarez. As the night sky dims we see a wide shot of a city lit up with gunfire, open blazes, and police lights blaring. It’s so simple yet so effective.
The performances are all top-tier as well. Emily Blunt is one of my favorite actresses and this is my favorite performance from her and that includes A Quiet Place, Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, and of course, Mary Poppins Returns. She’s a legitimate badass in this movie while being a great vehicle for the audience trying to understand what Brolin’s character is up to. Speaking of Brolin, I forgot how great he was in this. There’s plenty of the gruff and tough guy routine we’ve come to expect from him yet Matt is an oddly pleasant character despite the fact that he’s clearly a sketchy guy. Everything from the flip flops and his ability to fall asleep on command make his crime fighting mastermind all the more impressive. But its Benicio Del Toro who steals the show here. Alejandro is an awesome character. From the vague descriptions of his background and his quiet, yet menacing demeanor we know he’s not one to be fucked with. His delivery of “Don’t ever point a gun at me again!” had me fired up even after I knew it was coming.
Finally, the writing. This is Taylor Sheridan’s first writing credit before becoming the go-to-guy in the neo-western genre. After making the transition from character actor to writer, Sheridan raddled off instant classics like Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River in consecutive years, the latter of which he directed. He’s since made a handful of forgettable action films like Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse and Those Who Wish Me Dead but his biggest claim to fame nowadays is his work on the Yellowstone expanded universe. The fact that Sicario was his first writing credit was a shock to me as the film has a tight, deeply researched story that has plenty of compelling characters and memorable dialogue.
Give Sicario another watch and give it the love it deserves. It’s currently playing on Prime Video and needs to be at the forefront of more discussions regarding the best films of the past decade. Whether you look at this as an action movie or a crime drama, it still should be at the top of your lists as a modern classic.
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