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Sicario - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A
Acting: A
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A
Editing: A-

In lieu of opening titles, Sicario begins with just an explanatory title card that defines the word: it means "hitman." Then, immediately, we are thrown into a gripping opening sequence in which FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt, arguably her best performance to date) is part of a SWAT team raiding a house on the outskirts of Phoenix in which dozens of dead bodies are discovered inside the walls.

Sicario is that rare movie that is excellent on all fronts. It's so competently put together that it features several sequences that go on and on, with seemingly little actually happening, and yet you can't look away. This movie is all at once complex, evenly paced, and compulsively watchable.

It doesn't hurt that it is beautifully shot. The cinematographer, Roger Deakins, is clearly talented enough that he warrants mention -- this is the guy who also shot the likes of Skyfall, No Country for Old Men, The Shawshank Redemption, and a slew of Coen Brothers movies. He's been around a while, but clearly he's not getting tired. The composition and framing of the scenes in Sicario stick with you. Watching from high above, the distant shadow of a plane glide across the hills of Southwest Texas. The sunset behind silhouettes of officers about to raid a secret border tunnel, each of them sinking into the shadow of the horizon as they walk into the distance, like wading into black water.

With such things as the backdrop, this is the story of a highly skilled FBI agent filled with idealism, asked to join an elected task force on a mission to fight the drug trade between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. We spend a lot of time just as mystified as Kate regarding what purpose she has here, exactly. They lure her in by assuring her they are targeting the men ultimately responsible for all those bodies found inside the walls of that house. One of the agents (Josh Brolin) is particularly cagey about offering specific information. He tells her to "soak it all up" and learn.

They go from Phoenix to Ciudad Juarez, with an extended sequence involving little more than American officer vehicles crossing the border and getting escorted by a dozen or more Mexican Federal Police vehicles. We follow all these trucks, just driving through this bleak city, seemingly endlessly. But it is fraught with tension, particularly from Kate's point of view, as there is still so much she doesn't understand about what the hell they're doing. She's riding in the back of a vehicle with Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a man we know from the beginning is not who Kate is told he is -- and she knows it too. It's hardly new to have a mysterious and obviously pivotal character, but Del Toro gives Alejandro a unique sensibility and depth. There's something deeply unsettling about him.

Ciudad Juarez is depicted here in a way that makes it look like it rivals the horrors of ISIS. A bridge has several naked bodies dangling from it with their heads missing. Is that a cinematic exaggeration? Who knows? It feels real, and regardless, it's a reminder that the drug cartels bring their own horrors that rival those of the Middle East, and they are right next door -- and they bleed into our backyards.

There have been comparisons to Apocalypse Now, and there are definite parallels. To say that Kate is escorted into "the heart of darkness" in the context of the drug war would be an understatement. These people know they are fighting a war they can't win, and their best hope is to nudge the circumstances closer to stability. This means making some choices that are morally dubious at best. This applies to everyone, including Kate and Alejandro and even Kate's partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya). Some of them are already broken and others are about to be.

This is a bleak story indeed, but it's so skillfully -- and beautifully -- told that it commands attention. And although it's hardly a blockbuster, this is one thriller that is best seen on the big screen. So much talent went into this, it deserves the best possible appreciation. It might be the best movie playing in theatres right now.

Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt have different approaches to drug cartels in SICARIO.

Overall: A
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