Sicario doubles as a grim commentary and smart thriller thanks to a taut screenplay, stellar performances, and deft cinematography.

In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by an elite government task force official (Josh Brolin) to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past (Benicio Del Toro), the team sets out on a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.

Sicario immediately sets the tone for the rest film and tells you that this is not the Hollywoodized version of the war against drugs. It’s about a world of secrets, constant danger, and controlled chaos.

Right off the bat, the story kicks off with a bust and a bang. The movie has no qualms in showing the violence of its world as plastic wrapped dead bodies are discovered and an improvised explosive device blows two officers into bloody chunks. The movie gets increasingly muddled but not too confusing as the narrative deftly unspools to keep you engaged.

Along the way you’ll get well executed gripping action scenes with sharp cinematography, deft camerawork and editing. The orchestral score, reminiscent of Se7en and Silence of the Lambs, is filled with thumping dread that expertly enhances tension. The violence is not glorified nor sensationalized as the action has consequences. The best thing about Sicario is that it knows when to be blunt and when to hold back. In one scene the camera does a close up of a corpse’s bloody face inside a plastic bag. In another violence happens off screen and we only get to know the horror of the act through reactions. The screenplay is also smart enough to know that while these are great in enforcing a sense of danger in every turn, you can’t wear out the audience as the plot winds down at the right moments to focus on Kate. At times, the camera also focuses on dust motes dancing in the still air, but only as a repose to what will follow.

The movie has little time to flesh out its characters, but the stellar cast managed to imbue them with personalities. Emily Blunt is able to show steely resolve, bewilderment and vulnerability. You know that she is dedicated to her job, but you also get a sense that she may be at the end of her rope. Josh Brolin is reliable as the cynical smart ass whose character Matt expertly keeps Kate in the dark. Benicio Del Toro turns in a memorable performance as the mysterious Alejandro who is suspicious yet rouses curiosity. At times he’s like a father figure to Kate, but you still know full well that that doesn’t keep her safe from anyone.

While all of these elements make Sicario undeniably riveting, it’s a clinical drama. Kate is used as a plot device. Along with the audience, she becomes a passenger in a ship drifting on cold gray waters. The destination is unclear, the rest of the passengers look dubious, the deep cast refracted images of abandoned corpses, and all that Kate can hope is to survive.

On the other hand, this is what Sicario exactly intends to do. The drama reflects a grim yet timely picture about the war on drugs. There are no easy answers or swift resolutions. It’s chaotic world where the line between what is right and wrong doesn’t exist at all.

The cartel is an organization that supplies a multi-million dollar industry. As long as there is demand there will always be supply. What the authorities can only really do is curb the violence and clean up the mess.

Sicario maybe too grim and morally ambiguous for some, but in this case that’s the reality of the situation. It is a haunting and sad picture, but true nonetheless. Those who are looking for some fun thrills with happy endings would be better off waiting for the Bad Boys sequels.

My Rating: 10/10

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