When Prisoners came out in 2013, it was an intense and chilling movie about the lengths a desperate father would go to in order to find his kidnapped daughter. It was one of my favorite movies of that year and is still one of my favorite thrillers. So when I heard that the same director, Denis Villeneuve, was coming out with a movie about the drug cartel and was also starring Emily Blunt in the lead role, I couldn’t wait to see what else he had to offer.
Based off the trailer, the movie seemed to have all the elements that I thought made Prisoners great, such as the tense atmosphere, an eerie setting, and strong, interesting characters to follow. All of this along with what seemed like a horrifying story about a young FBI agent assisting a task force in catching a dangerous cartel leader, in order to help stop the war on drugs. So with that anticipation, I headed into the movie but what I got was a little different than what I was expecting.
The first act felt like the strongest of the film. Starting off with a raid of a drug house and making a horrifying discovery of where the victims were being held, to the first time Blunt’s character enters Mexico with her new team and helps transport a member of the cartel to a safe zone to be interrogated. From beginning to end of this act, the mood is tense, made better by an eerie score, horrifying set pieces and visceral, violent action sequences. But after the second act starts, the pace and the tension seem to go down a bit, making some scenes feel like they’re dragging on too long. This was mainly due to the film slowing down a bit for character development and for a few set ups that would have a pay off later on. While the pay offs were great, it seemed like the film lost its focus for a few scenes, and made it unclear as to which direction it was headed. Luckily, by the third act, the action and tension start to ramp up again and make for a bone-chilling finale.
The movie has a lot of twists and turns, and just like Blunt’s character, the audience is kept in the dark for most of it. The social commentary of the movie seems to be that to end the war on drugs, the good guys must be as ruthless as the men they’re trying to stop. Which leads to most of the characters seeming like villains near the end, instead of people you want to root for. Although by the end the ever escalating brutal tactics to catch and kill the horrific cartel leaders seem somewhat justifiable, as it goes from justice driven to vengeance driven, the methods the individuals use to get there, don’t always feel right. But of course, with the movie focusing on moral ambiguity, it feels like the makers hit the nail on the head with how they showed the characters.
But my main problems lie with some of the character focus and how their stories are played out. I love Emily Blunt, not only do I think she’s a great actress, but she has a certain charisma that allows her to play a tough character without seeming like she’s trying too hard. She plays the part very well here, while she’s tough enough to hang with the boys, she also seems very vulnerable and you can tell that her new situation is taking a massive toll on her. She also plays the moral compass of the film, often questioning the tactics of Josh Brolin’s character, stating that what they are doing is unethical as well as corrupt. From the trailer it seemed like she would be the main character, as well as the hero. But to those expecting that will be mildly shocked, seeing as the film had other ideas of how to use her character, by making her more of an observer to the bigger story than anything else. So by the end, it just feels like her character was used by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro’s characters as her superiors, in order to get what they wanted. But in the last few minutes of the film, you realize Del Toro’s objective in the story, and as his trail of revenge leads him to do some horrible things, you see just how ruthless a person has to be to beat these kinds of men. Unfortunately, this makes Blunt’s character seem like she didn’t accomplish much in the film. Ultimately, this is what the film intended, showing the tragedy of how a moral person can be taken advantage of, and even if it’s for the greater good, it doesn’t make the situation any easier to swallow.
But although I felt the tension slip away a little during the middle section, the direction was just as incredible as it was in Prisoners. Villeneuve creates a very dangerous world in his film. From aerial views of Mexico showing our small team stranded in the middle of this this dangerous area, constantly fighting in order to complete their mission. To small, constrained settings like the drug house filled with dead bodies and the drug tunnel filled with armed cartel members. Everything has a claustrophobic feel to it, filling every moment with a feeling of dread. The creepy score by Johann Johannsson, along with a brutal script by Tye Sheridan, add a lot to Sicario, making it an eerie and emotionally draining experience throughout.
So while my initial reaction to Sicario wasn’t as strong as when I saw Prisoners, I realized that the more I think about the movie, the better it seems to get. It has some of the best direction I’ve seen all year, along with a great cast and an unnerving story. So if you’re interested in seeing a movie that feels like a Breaking Bad fever dream, this is definitely a movie to check out.