"Sicario" means "hitman", so you know immediately that this film will be violent --- very violent! Hitmen, the Mexican cartel, renegade CIA "consultants" and two by-the-book FBI agents --- this is the basis for "Sicario".


Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, the Arizona FBI team leader who gets "selected" by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a "special" agent, who is tasked with finding the cartel leader responsible for the horrific murder scene found in Chandler, Arizona.


Graver's co-conspirator, a Columbian known only as Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), has joined their ranks, for reasons of his own. He's a man of few words, and quiet action, but ruthless, nonetheless. When Kate realizes she's in over her head, it's too late --- she must endure the mission and try not to get in the way.


"Sicario" is a pulsing, super-tense thriller. Blunt, who was superb in "Edge of Tomorrow" with Tom Cruise, is obviously well suited for these types of roles. She is fit and fabulous, and so convincing as an idealistic FBI agent, determined to do the right thing, at any cost. I love her --- and her performance here!.


Brolin is a non-entity, not even worth discussing. But Del Toro is Oscar-worthy. I have always been a huge fan, but, trust me, when you watch the scene with Alejandro sitting at dinner with the leader of the cartel and his family --- you will never think of him the same way again. He is chilling!


Denis Villeneuve has directed a super-bloody killer of a film. But without cinematographer Roger Deakins, "Sicario" would not be nearly as dramatic. Deakins' filming is outstanding --- never more so than when Graver and his group descend into the desert to traverse a tunnel leading them into Mexico. The shot is beyond marvelous --- one that will stay with me a very long time --- pure genius.


Opinion: See It Now!





The Spanish word for "hitman" is "sicario". In the context of the United States vs. Mexican drug lords, that word pretty much sums up the storyline for the new Denis Villeneuve ("Prisoners") film starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro.


A U.S. government task force teams up with a couple of FBI agents, led by Kate Macer (Blunt), to thwart the influx of drugs at the border near El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Their ultimate target is the Juarez cartel's head honcho, Fausto Alarcon (Julio Cedillo).


Kate is recruited to join the task force by a group that includes Dave Jennings (Victor Garber) and Matt Graver (Brolin). She is not wildly enthusiastic about volunteering for the mission, but she is eager to avenge the murders of two of her comrades. Kate's play-by-the-book mentality is a source of friction in the film, although I didn't find her moral allegiances to be a compelling aspect of the script.


The fourth key member of the force is Alejandro (Del Toro), a taciturn "free agent". Where Alejandro is quiet and slow talking, Matt is loquacious and eager to throw his weight around. Alejandro has a particularly strong motive to find Alarcon. His wife and daughter were brutally murdered by the cartel. It is Alejandro's ultimate infiltration of the Alarcon compound that provides most of the tension, and the resultant satisfaction of the film.

"Sicario" is one long, extended sequence that unfolds over a short period of time, in which the brutality of the drug cartels is dramatically depicted. From the grisly opening scene when agents raid a house and find 42 bodies --- victims of the drug wars --- to the savage streets of Juarez, there is not much letup.


"Sicario" was not actually filmed in Juarez. Most of the production was shot in Albuquerque, El Paso and Vera Cruz, Mexico. Renowned cinematographer, 11-time Academy Award nominee Roger Deakins, did the honors.


Nonetheless, Juarez is depicted as a barbarous city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where gunshots, hangings and beheadings are commonplace. During a ten-year period beginning in 1993, Juarez was statistically the most violent city on the planet --- dubbed the "murder capital of the world" --- with over 1000 slayings of young women, still unsolved. At this time, Juarez has cleaned up its act, to a degree, ranking 37th in the world of violent crime.


But the area is still highly dangerous for journalists and outsiders. To get a feel for the atmosphere of hostility that exists in Mexico, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan interviewed migrants who populate the areas of drug activity. In a tense six-hour period getting the lay of the land, he says "We drove a white SUV because only the cartel guys drive black SUVs, and if you drive a black SUV you can get targeted.”


Sheridan subtly preaches that the transportation of drugs across the border requires complicity on the part of rogue police. Silvio (Maximiliano Hernándezis one such cop, yet despite helping to move hundreds of pounds of drugs via the trunk of his State Trooper squad car, he lives in relative squalor. Silvio's meager surroundings with his wife and son are contrasted against Alarcon's wealth in a gold-laden mansion, where the drug king lives sumptuously with his own family, surrounded by half a dozen, heavily-armed bodyguards. Even in the underground world of drug cartels, there is a huge disparity in riches.


Of all the movies about drug trafficking, and the authorities who battle the problem, I would rate "Sicario" somewhere in the middle. It is extremely violent, of course, but only intermittently suspenseful. For a really disturbing look at the Mexican drug war and the cartels who thrive there, check out "Cartel Land", a documentary recently reviewed by Kaplan vs Kaplan.


Opinion: Mild See It Now!