“Sicario” is intense, and violent, and fierce like it’s supposed to be. I liked it. At times, I liked it a lot. However, there was a period when it began to feel like some other movies. 2000’s “Traffic” is the most obvious one, and the comparison completes with the inclusion of Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro in the cast of Denis Villeneuve’s latest. Villeneuve lost me at the end of 2013’s “Prisoners”, after a fantastic first two-thirds. Then he went soft towards the finale. He missteps occasionally in “Sicario” along the way, but no one will accuse him of finishing fluffy this time around. Denis makes certain of that with a harrowing dinner table sequence. Be prepared.
FBI SWAT agent Kate Mercer (the always fascinating Emily Blunt) is chosen to join a CIA Special Activities Division, that focuses on the drug cartels in Mexico, and at the American border. What follows is a trip down the rabbit hole into unspeakable violence, torture and corruption. Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, cutting his teeth for this with “No Country for Old Men”) leads the unit, and his enigmatic partner is Alejandro Gillick (Mr. del Toro, recalling not only “Traffic”, but also 1995’s “The Usual Suspects” during the denouement). The two men manage to teach Kate a lot, and help keep her from getting killed more than once. But their methods increasingly give Ms. Mercer pause.
I’m a huge fan of Emily Blunt, and she has to show admirable restraint here against her much more flamboyant male co-stars. She counters everything well, but isn’t given the chance to shine that she usually seizes. That’s not her fault, it’s the script and direction. It’s not fatal, and I understand Villeneuve’s choice, and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s too. Blunt has to be more workmanlike under their guidance (workWOMANlike?), in order to let the boys be over-the-top. The stuff with the men keeps the film from being a great one. It becomes a bit of torture porn (so did “Prisoners”), and ultimately a revenge drama–and we’ve witnessed that kind of movie before. It’s difficult to take your eyes off it though. And impossible to un-watch it during the brutal stuff. Definitely not for the faint of heart.
next review up: “Grandma”