DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
Finding tension in a film is never easy. Too often directors resort to cheap tricks, forgetting the simple fact that feeling tense about a situation is something different from feeling scared.
There is no cheapness in Sicario. At all. It is a tense, smart and beautiful film that only confirms the talent and versatility of Villeneuve.
From the get go we are thrown into a world that doesn’t seem like ours but unfortunately is. For two hours we are granted a peek behind the veil, the veil that so comfortably hangs between our sheltered lives and the harsh reality elsewhere. This is a film about the cogs in the machine and the people operating it.
The cogs in this case are polar opposites in every single way apart from their loyalty to their cause. On the one hand we have the stellar Emily Blunt portraying the righteous, young and sometimes naïve FBI agent thrown into a situation she eventually does not want to be in. Blunt’s character is a prime example of what a strong female character should be (and one all those bleeting meninists should probably be equally pissed off about than about Furiosa from Fury Road that same year). Female characters that are regarded strong are often masculated to the extreme. Here, this is certainly not the case. She is strong because of who she is, not because of what she resembles. Surrounded by men, she stands her ground not by imitating behaviour but by staying true to herself. And even though she probably doesn’t get the ending she deserves, she still comes out as perhaps the strongest character in the film.
On the other side of the spectrum we have Benicio del Toro’s character. It takes some time to unveil who he exactly is and what his purpose in the story is. This makes his character intriguing and beguiling in a way only Del Toro can convey. His performance is amazing. His character is given a cliché backstory, but he manages to give him depth not many actors could. Mirroring the single mindedness of Blunt’s character they are forces that attract and push away at the same time and it is in that dynamic that this film continually manages to find energy and tension.
The scenes in which the teams of covert operatives execute their missions are, each and every one of them, gems of what a film can push forth from the screen. They are both visually and aurally choreographed to perfection. Many films like this lose themselves in static and frills, not so Villeneuve, he is a lean filmmaker. Here, not a single shot is wasted or random. In that meticulousness lies the key to why Villeneuve manages to conjure up so much tension in certain scenes. He seems to care a lot about his craft and that always carries over.
Apart from all the tension and the cloak and dagger stuff, this film still feels like it is a morality play at its heart. It provides a grim world view and presents the struggles of coping in a world like that really well. It is that approach, the performances and the talent of Villeneuve that make this film stand head and shoulders above most in the genre.