The early word on Sicario, the cartel drama starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, is that it's terrific. The preferred superlative on the TV blurbs (which blurbs come from credible sources) is not "grittiest" or "wildest" but "best." Your Scene editors concur: this taut, explosive drug movie, which opens Friday in wide release, is among the best of the year.
Blunt stars as no-nonsense FBI agent Kate Macer. She's part of an Arizona detail that does home invasions on cartel-related properties. The film's opening scene is one such invasion, and it takes a horrific turn right away. Hidden in the walls are dozens of corpses, bloody and wrapped in plastic — victims, we can only assume, of savage cartel justice.
Macer is promptly tapped to aid an extra-governmental task force, led by flip-flop-wearing "consultant" Matt Graver (Brolin) and a hardened former prosecutor from Medellin (Del Toro), whose aim soon becomes clear: They want to wreak havoc on the cartel business chain to bring its leaders out of hiding, and to thereby question or kill them. At least that's what they allege. Macer, who's fed up with the effects of the drug trade on her own Arizona community, is eager to lend her assistance. But she's not prepared for her new colleagues' unorthodox tactics — Are they CIA? Military? —nor is she keen on the flippant stance they take toward things like FBI protocol.
Like us, Macer is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the violence and the chaos once she crosses into Mexico (on a chartered jet, when she thought she was en route to El Paso). Her journey has the thrumming immediacy of something conveyed in the present tense, and her curiosity and her horror are shared in equal measure by the audience. An early scene in which the team captures a cartel leader and attempts to spirit him away, but is detained by a traffic jam at the border crossing, has all the exquisite cinematic tension of The Hurt Locker's finest bomb confrontations.
It's not long before the frayed, principled Macer wants to quit this cowboy outfit, but she can't. She's got a hunch that there's something bigger and more sinister afoot. (Spoiler alert: Something bigger and more sinister indeed.)
Sicario, which we're informed in prefatory material means "hitman," is just as visually assured as Quebecois director Denis Villenueve's 2013 torture-drama Prisoners, but it's bolstered by a much stronger narrative. The same killer camera work is courtesy of Prisoners director of photography (and regular Coen brothers collaborator) Roger Deakins.
Fans of Breaking Bad and Narcos will love the material and the landscapes; fans of Blunt, Brolin and/or Del Toro will love their individual efforts, all of which endeavor to portray flawed, nuanced characters in the liminal space between right and wrong; fans of movies in general will love Sicario.