Director Denis Villeneuve burst onto the scene back in 2013 with an impressive debut on Prisoners which similarly to Sicario was also a taut and tense crime thriller. Previously before Prisoners Villeneuve worked mostly on foreign films that were also received very well and ever since working on films in the States he has worked with Roger Deakins who is a phenomenal cinematographer. The two of them together now have crafted two thrillers that truly stand above others with their beautifully crafted story as well as their beautifully crafted shots on screen. Villeneuve is for sure a director to look out for in the future. As for Sicario, it follows a somewhat familiar plot but instead in focuses more on the characters at hand and the duality and moral issues that comes with the job.
The plot follows Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) who is an idealistic FBI agent that gets enlisted into a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the United States and Mexico. Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) runs the task force and personally sees to it to bring Kate into the fold. Shortly into their work together she is put off by Matt as he doesn't tell her what she is doing there and when Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) comes into the picture she begins to suspect that something worse is waiting around the corner. At it's core this story works in the grey instead of black and whites. In this kind of world the two can mesh together and frequently mess with your own morality.
The plot again is very familiar as we see the government task force come to blows with a Mexican cartel over drugs and how they are forced to play hard ball with them in order to achieve success. What this film does differently is by having these three main characters of Kate, Matt and Alejandro is that is allows the viewer to see different shades of morality that each character has. Kate is new to this world and views everything that they are doing as wrong, but if they were to be by the book like she is then there would be no results and more people would continue to die so we see over the course of the film her tight rope over being her typical by the book self but also try to bring down the scary cartel through her ways. Matt, on the other hand, seems to get off by his nefarious ways of extracting information from prisoners and by lying to Kate. Lastly, Alejandro is on a quest of revenge and will stop at nothing to see the cartel destroyed. All of these characters and plot points are nothing new but by the power of the performances that Villeneuve gets out of Blunt, Brolin and del Toro mixed with the tone set by him it all works so beautifully.
The real star of the film has to be Benicio del Toro. He has the most commanding presence on screen with his dark Alejandro. His character is disturbed but that is what grabs the audience, del Toro's performance makes you want to see more and more of him. He also makes the character likable which can be off putting when the audience still sees him do some horrible things. His chemistry with Emily Blunt is also excellent which helps bring their characters to life even more. Blunt does a good job with her role and in the hands of a lesser actress the character could potentially become to absurdly stupid to be even remotely likable. With Blunt in tow, the audience attaches themselves to her as she is the only one in the film that is truly normal and relatable to normal people. Lastly, the one thing that holds this film back in my opinion is that of the sound. Sometimes it was incredibly hard to hear exactly what the actors were saying. It also starts pretty slow but it is understandably acceptable as without a slow burn the twists at the end wouldn't pay off the same way. All in all, Villeneuve has created another taut tightly wound thriller that is a gratifying experience all the way through.