Mark Cunliffe 🇵🇸’s review published on Letterboxd:
Yes, it was that tense.
Sicario is something very interesting and unusual for a Hollywood blockbuster, because it doesn't play by the rules we have become accustomed to in such fare. For a start, director Denis Villeneuve's film seems to come from the Alan Clarke school of film-making; aside from placing the camera miles away during some dialogue scenes, rendering its stars as little more than dots on the landscape, it also shares Clarkey's preoccupation with keeping things on the move. It's a movie that fixates primarily on both its own and its characters momentum, with much of the first 40 minutes or so simply a showcase of the protagonists going from A to B, whilst ratcheting up a curious tension in turn, despite the fact that neither we, the audience, nor Emily Blunt's FBI agent have much of a grasp on what is actually going on at this stage. We're all just enthralled by Benicio Del Toro's cool as a cucumber act as an ambigious and mysterious intelligence advisor. The script by Taylor Sheridan (yes, the bloke that played one of the sheriff's in Sons of Anarchy!) treats its viewer with intelligence and prefers to show, rather than tell, for quite a distance. And you really don't mind this deferring when the film looks this good (Roger Deakins cinematography, naturally) and makes you feel uneasy and tense without really knowing why. Equally, the great thing about cinema is its ability to take you somewhere you don't know or understand and Sicario does this brilliantly with its depiction of Mexico and its drug cartels - what makes it all the more intriguing is knowing how close this actually is - even more so for audiences across the pond. We're not talking Timbuktu here, after all. This is on America's doorstep though, as the late David Bowie once pointed out 'This is Not America'. Sadly Sicario may be the kind of film that adds weight to Donald Trump's uber right-wing small minded rhetoric in the equally small minds of his followers, whilst the sparsely haired one all too conveniently eschews the main message that later develops.
Because this strange beast is also remarkable for being another Hollywood film that is unafraid and unashamed to explore the dark heart of America. It seems America isn't even America any more, that its no longer the role it used to like to present to the world. There are no more white hats and black hats - it's all just a very dark shade of grey. It's something that has been happening a lot since the patriotism and desire for justice which followed the horrific events of 9/11 has died down to be replaced by the sobering reality of the exact nature of what occurred in its name or, as Josh Brolin's enigmatic agent has it, to "dramatically overreact" to events. Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker are the biggest examples of such unabashed mirror holding, but Sicario can certainly take its place alongside those two big hitters. It's worth pointing out that this trend has even stated to infiltrate pure popcorn Hollywood like Denzil Washington's The Equalizer which rebooted the McCall character as an efficient yet psychologically damaged former agent whose moral code was as dubious as that of his enemies. I fully believe that what is happening now will be talked about in fascinated terms in years to come as being representative of this time cinematically, culturally and socio-politically.
Oh and for us British viewers, how great it is to see that both Parking Pataweyo's relocation to the US and transfer to the FBI came through without a hitch!
PS Emily Blunt looks extremely hot - it's actually quite amusing when old Pataweyo starts telling her she looks like shit. I presume he was taking the piss?