In the last few years, Emily Blunt has established herself as one of the best action women in Hollywood. After beginning her career in more dramatic and romantic roles, she has transitioned extremely successfully to characters such as those in Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, and now Sicario, for whom a gun is a loyal friend. In Sicario she plays Kate Macer, an FBI Swat agent, who works just on the American side of the border with Mexico. To begin with, her team discovers something horrific whilst raiding the house of suspected kidnappers in Arizona. This results in her being recommended to Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver, an undercover agent, for a special task force, who are targeting the men responsible for the carnage. These include Mexican drug cartel members, in particular a man by the name of Manuel Diaz. It is clear from the beginning that Macer has no idea what she has let herself in for, and director Denis Villeneuve draws together a terrific tense thriller, as Kate falls deeper into this shady operation. All is essentially not quite what it seems.
Blunt is the glue that holds it all together. Kate is a strong, idealistic character, but Blunt never lets her fall into the stereotyped role of a cold, hard-nosed women with no emotions. When she has the chance to let her hair down, and have a drink and a dance, she takes it. She may be all work on the job, but she’s also not a robot. The rest of the cast is on top form as well, with Josh Brolin doing his best work in years. His Matt Graver clearly understands the gravitas of the situation but remains cool and collected, and even witty. It’s an easy role to get wrong, to overplay the comedy, and fall into farce, but Brolin measures it expertly. The other major role falls to Benicio Del Toro, who plays Alejandro Gillick, Graver’s partner. If possible, he is even more shady than Graver, and Del Toro teases us with where his loyalties lie.
The storyline itself is superb, worthy of the actors’ efforts. There are a handful of scenes which are, quite frankly, contenders for scene of the year. From the explosive opening, to the terrifying escapades into Mexico, as well an incredible cameo turn from Jon Bernthal. Vileveneuve makes the correct choice having the Mexican drug cartel as little more than a backdrop for most of the movie. We witness the brutal consequences of their criminal activities (some of the most horrendous moments in any film this year), but they are a ghost for the most part, only their names crop up again and again. This allows the focus to stay squarely on the main trio, slowly developing the relationships between them, and unravelling the mysteries until the final dramatic moments.
It’s safe to say that Sicario was snubbed by the Oscars this year, missing out on all of the main categories. Blunt should have been a shoe-in for a Best Actress nomination at the least, whilst Del Toro, Brolin, and Vilenueve all have legitimate gripes too. In a year where only eight films were nominated for Best Picture, it seems strange not to have added Sicario to that list. Roger Deakins deservedly picked up a nomination for Best Cinematography, and he would no doubt have ran away with that award for his wonderful work here, were it not for Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant) who looks like he will pick up his third consecutive gong. All in all, Sicario was unlucky this year not to receive more awards acclaim, considering it is one of the films of the year.