Ruth Scouller’s review published on Letterboxd:
Seemingly inspired by the illegal aliens joke in Aliens, and baked in a post-Breaking Bad/The Wire landscape, Villeneuve's stunning Sicario continues to demonstrate his personal growth as a film craftsman. The same pitfalls that dogged an earlier film like Prisoners are still present, but largely suffocated and nudged to the back half. His propulsive confidence in his vision here is more undeniable, and this places his lesser habits into the shade. Sicario is a beast of a film.
Once again, he elicits near career-best performances, reminding what these actors are capable of. You couldn't ask for much more from Blunt, who flawlessly hits every single note of her character with perfection. Josh Brolin continues to rejuvenate his prospects by accepting that he specialists in scumbags and jerks (no matter where they lie on the charm spectrum), and running with it. And Benicio Del Toro delivers what will surely go down as one of his greatest cinematic moments, his frustrated fans will rejoice once again. This may just be his finest tortured badass to date.
There would be a tendency with a film like Sicario to opt for the multi-strand storyline, as seen in numerous comparable films from Traffic to Babel. Sicario wisely sidesteps this by immersing itself in a particular character's point of view and bit by bit, sometimes patiently and sometimes violently, uncovering the extensive, ominous, disturbingly transformative and deeply irreconcilable unknown. It takes a principled, rule of law protagonist, sensitive to the odours of even minimal sloppiness and corruption, from boardroom sandals to unclear tactics, and confronts her with an ever darkening web of illegalities. Throughout the film, and coming from an increasingly irresolute and despairing homeland context, she is both lured and repulsed by a more results-by-any-means-necessary approach and fundamentally struggles as a result. She knows that the world beyond the rule of law is bound to eventually collapse into the same depravity, nevertheless she becomes embroiled in the cross-border shenanigans employed by her shady guides. This tension is channeled through the visceral prism of an Aliens-esque action/horror, where the cartel enemy and their true threat is slowly revealed as being insidiously inescapable, requiring rather devilish counter tactics. The disturbing opening clearly appears to be inspired by Aliens, whilst elements of an ancient, violent and grotesque landscape, the sexualised extent the enemy takes to get at her, and the sheer resourcefulness of the enemy, all impress upon the viewer the mind-splitting danger lurking behind every surface.
Sicario may not offer up much new, and other than an inopportune heavy-handed speech at the climax (no Denis no) and a slightly more successful and terrifyingly definitive subsequent non-negotiable offer it doesn't take much of an explicit stance on 'beating the war of drugs' either, merely offering an on-the-ground perspective of the layout, but I think this is missing the point a little in where its truest pleasures lie, as well as betraying the interests of the director, who clearly revels in the psychological conflict more than the answers. Sicario mostly functions as a refreshing perspective on the issue, and has a lot of fun in doing it. Yes, fun. Despite the various haunting incidents and thematic issues and typical overbearing nature of Villeneuve (which actually works brilliantly in this context), Sicario is a gripping descent into principles and practicalities, and the tensions and malformed manifestations that fall therein. Villeneuve is all about dark, transformative thrills, and you certainly get that here with Sicario. From those big Blunt eyes to the creepy landscape to the threat of extreme urban terror, Sicario grips you immediately and holds you in a vice-grip for a long time. It may not be a completely flawless film, particularly the more you think about it beyond the cinematic experience, but it is certainly a powerful exercise in audience-friendly genre filmmaking, which proves that despite my past misgivings with Villeneuve (particularly in the slight misfire that is Enemy), he is certainly here to stay.
Villeneuve continues to demonstrate his genre credentials, undertaking atmospheric excursions into mind-shredding complexes. Sicario builds on his previous work and is undoubtedly his most successful work to date. Along with Mad Max: Fury Road, art-friendly action cinema has featured some stunning highs in 2015. Villeneuve's execution is increasingly catching up with his ambition.