What if we take on the Mexican drug cartels the same way we combat terrorism? That, in essence, is the central question director Denis Villeneuve’s ultra-violent and sobering new crime thriller attempts to answer. With ‘Sicario,’ the relatively unknown French-Canadian director, whose previous credits include the Hugh Jackman vigilante thriller 'Prisoners' and the Jake Gyllenhaal head-scratcher ‘Enemy,’ just put himself on the radar as a singular talent to keep an eye on.
After playing Tom Cruise’s training sergeant in the sci-fi alien invasion flick ‘Edge of Tomorrow,’ British actress Emily Blunt further cemented her action-heroine creds as Kate Macer, an FBI Special Weapons and Tactics agent attached to an inter-agency task force headed by the laid-back Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). Initially believing that the purpose of this special task force was to surveil and apprehend a local drug figure with connections to a ruthless Mexican cartel who's responsible for a series of gruesome murders in Arizona, Kate discovered to her increasing alarm that its scope went far beyond and she may be in over her head. Adding to her anxiety was the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), a Colombian national and “consultant” on the task force whose role and motives remain somewhat unclear.
Like Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Traffic’ and Oliver Stone’s ‘Savages,’ ‘Sicario’ depicts the “War on Drugs” not in black and white but shades of grey. It’s not something to be “won” but rather “managed,” and it is perfectly okay to “fight fire with fire” so to speak. ‘Sicario’ is brilliant filmmaking because it’s not simply a crime thriller but also a grindhouse revenge flick and gritty war movie. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow and Michael Mann collaborated to make a movie. Then there’s Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro, whose quiet demeanor belies a menace just below the surface that’s resolved perfectly in the film’s climactic final scene. Visceral, cathartic, gripping, suspenseful and thought-provoking, ‘Sicario’ is by far the best movie on the “War on Drugs” to date because it literally depicts it as one.