Nothing is what it seems in Denis Villeneuve's canny and intensely suspenseful drug cartel 




A shot in the dark: Benicio Del Toro   


The broad strokes of Denis Villeneuve's drug cartel thriller follow a familiar pattern. A zealous – if naïve – FBI agent embarks on a mission to find the man behind a smuggling operation (and a string of dead bodies) on the US-Mexican border. However, Denis Villeneuve is no ordinary filmmaker. Two years ago he made the chilling, smart – and critically undervalued – Prisoners, with Jake Gyllenhaal. Before that he gave us the extraordinarily gripping, moving and resonant Incendies, which was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film. Here, the Québécois director builds his mounting layers of suspense through a canny attention to minutiae and a nose for naturalism that pitches Sicario beyond the generic.


Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, a SWAT officer who sees two of her colleagues killed by an incendiary booby trap and so agrees to accompany a government team into Mexico to find the man responsible. As she tags along with a group of mysterious men with an indeterminate MO, we witness the irregularity of the enterprise through her eyes.


Villeneuve litters his narrative with telling details: such as Kate glancing down at the sandaled feet of the Department of Defence adviser Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a man whose offhand manner is alien to her. Even more alien is the armoured sortie into Juárez, a Third World hellhole in which gunfire blends in with the sounds of the street and where naked bodies are strung up from a bridge. We, like her, feel the tension of the unknown like beholding a live wire in a pit of rattlesnakes. Furthermore, Villeneuve has coaxed first-rate performances from his cast: Ms Blunt conveying a vulnerable intelligence, Brolin exuding an air of nonchalant braggadocio and, best of all, Benicio Del Toro as a steely, ambiguous advisor with an agenda that is hard to read. If the film drags at times, the longueurs are more than compensated by Roger Deakins' lucid, almost surreal cinematography, while Jóhann Jóhannsson’s occasional, throbbing score turns the blood cold.




Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernández, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan.


Dir Denis Villeneuve, Pro Basil Iwanyk, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Edward McDonnell and Molly Smith, Screenplay Taylor Sheridan, Ph Roger Deakins, Pro Des Patrice Vermette, Ed Joe Walker, Music Jóhann Jóhannsson, Costumes Renée April.


Black Label Media/Thunder Road Pictures-Lionsgate.

121 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 8 October 2015. Cert. 15.