Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya
Rated R for Strong Violence, Grisly Images, and Language
In terms of tone and visual appeal, "Sicario" is a success. When it comes to weaving a coherent tale with three-dimensional characters, it comes up short. This is a grim, violent tale about the drug trade, but the narrative is messy and characters are sketchily developed.
This is probably to be expected. The film was directed by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, whose previous films ("Incendies," "Prisoners") displayed little more than a consistently brooding tone. Villeneuve demands intellectual involvement, but not in the usual way. Rather, he leaves holes in the story and demands that the audience fill them. That would be all well and good if he had any skill with it. But in "Incendies" and "Prisoners," the questions had only one answer, which made them seem pretentious (the super-serious yet understated tone only enhances that effect). But with "Sicario," he got his own recipe wrong. The story rarely makes any sense.
FBI agent Kate Macer (Blunt) is working in Arizona when she comes across a grisly scene at a drug bust. Over forty corpses have been hidden in the walls of a house. Shortly after that, she's handpicked by a mysterious man named Matt Graver (Brolin) to take down a major drug lord. She agrees, but then she finds out that both Matt and his right-hand man Alejandro (Del Toro) have a habit of walking on the shady side of the law.
The acting is surprisingly strong, considering the fact that they are kept low-key by Villeneuve. Emily Blunt, best known for playing the bitchy assistant in "The Devil Wears Prada," gives a strong performance as the vulnerable FBI agent (and sports a flawless American accent). Josh Brolin is perfectly sleazy as the tough-talking, tell it like it is lawman; he hasn't been this good since "Milk." One word is all that's needed to describe Benicio Del Toro's performance: intense.
There are some good things about this movie. It looks great (it is, after all, shot by Roger Deakins), and the action scenes crackle with suspense. But it lacks a clear narrative and is at times far too serious for its own good. Pity.