Sicario ★★★★½

Sicario is a intense genre exercise; it is brutally effective and surprisingly economic. It is a film balanced on three wonderful, and different performances. Emily Blunt confirms, after Edge of Tomorrow, that she is a surprisingly effective female action lead. Blunt, never overplaying her role as the sole female performer, is as quietly effective as Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs, her slight frame belying her real competence. However, she also retains a degree of welcome vulnerability as the character who is somewhat out of her depth, despite her strengths.

Benicio Del Toro is great as the film's unknown quantity, adding moral complexity throughout. He again shows that he is this era's Robert Mitchum, eyes are heavy-lidded, with his heavy walk, but with a graceful danger that does not seem out of place. This is a reminder that Benicio Del Toro is a great charismatic film actor. He does not do the most with his talents, but occasionally he shows up in a film to remind the world there are few better. The final lead performance comes from Josh Brolin, whose arrogance emanates off the screen. As a man who will walk between the raindrops, where everyone else will get hit by lightning. It feels like a performance akin to Kilgore from Apocalypse Now, the grins and laughs and sandles. I think Brolin is a bit of a genius. He may have limited range, but he is brilliant in the same way as Tommy Lee Jones.

However, the real star of the film is Denis Villeneuve and his supremely effective direction. He shoots the film like a late-period Kathryn Bigelow, or mid-period Michael Mann. It is crisp, with swooping cameras and brutally effective violence, there is barely a shot wasted. The first hour is perfectly crafted, edited with acute accuracy; it really barrels along.

I loved the opening raid on the house in Phoenix, the way the camera shifts across the landscape, but the real high point of the film comes when the film goes to Juarez for the prisoner extraction. The film maybe never quite recaptures the brilliance of the first hour, and the run through Juarez. I was especially skeptical of the thermal-imaging viewpoint later in the film, which I thought looked like really shoddy CGI. However, it is a testament to Villeneuve that he mostly manages to hold onto the pacing of the film, and he shifts into different territory for the ending. An ending that I thought the film was not going to land for a good while, but Villeneuve and Taylor Sheridan manage to end the film on a nice counterpoint. A downbeat note to be sure, but it really brings the drama through.

A brilliant film, though having seen it, it does mean I will never be going to Mexico on holiday. Thanks Villenuve.

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