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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Review: “Sicario’s” narcotrafficking drama thrills from start to finish

    My grandpa has a term for movies like “Sicario.” Gramps calls movies like this a “grinder:” something the subject matter of which does not fill the viewer with the warm fuzzies, but a story that needs to be told nonetheless.

    “Sicario,” a new thriller from director Denis Villeneuve that delves into the war on the border cartel, is a grinder through and through. By the time the credits roll, your mind will be spinning as it attempts to process the film in all its bleak glory.

    “Sicario” tells the tale of FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she is thrown to the wolves when two cryptic agents, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), bring her into their fold. Nothing screams shady like a man with no last name, as is the case with Alejandro.

    Del Toro steals the show as the aforementioned Alejandro in a performance that deserves award consideration. Many performances are lauded as such, but Del Toro’s genuinely deserves it, as Alejandro burns with a quiet intensity that does not relent for the duration of the film.

    The film opens with a tense drug raid on a cartel safe house, and from there the tension refuses to disperse. Villeneuve is no stranger to the suspense genre, with the eerie kidnap escapade “Prisoners” under his belt. More than anything else, Villeneuve understands that the key to good suspense is the nebulous but never-ending sense that something is coming. Every moment of suspense should feel as if it could give out at any second under the weight of the impending: one minute total calm, the next a storm.

    The other key element of good suspense is the unknown. Viewers that are kept in the dark must stay on their toes. Good suspense movies bring compounding confusion and misdirection until the final act brings about a tidy conclusion with every mysterious plot point wrapping up. “Sicario” follows these tenants as gospel.

    “Sicario” subverts the typical movie trope of having a “special snowflake” of a protagonist: a character good at nearly everything that rises to the challenges thrown their way. Kate begins the film within this role, as her excellence in running drug busts seemingly earmarks her for selection to Graver and Alejandro’s special task force.

    Kate’s character acts as an avatar for the audience when she is exposed to the whole new world that is the war on the Mexican cartels. As the film progresses, the audience slowly realizes that Kate is far from someone that possesses special aptitude; she is merely a pawn in the grand scheme of higher powers.

    The cloak and dagger black ops of Graver and Alejandro gradually chew at the moral fiber of Kate. Her adherence to protocol mirrors her views of a moral black and white; meanwhile, Garver plays fast and loose in the playground of the moral grey. A tense highway shootout and questionable interrogation tactics mark the beginning of Kate’s journey that walks the line of the age-old question of whether the ends justify the means.

    This difference in operational philosophies provides the key conflict of the film.

    “Sicario” weaves a complex web of moral quandaries in the relationship between the by-the-books procedure Kate believes in, against the morally questionable but more effective course of action Graver and Alejandro deal in.

    Only in the final act does the film fully come into focus with a climax that leaves the entire audience on the edge of their seats.

    Each character achieves their goal in one way or the other, but not in what could be considered an expected outcome. The ending reveals what was truly going on all along, and this reveal nearly brings Kate to the point of destruction.

    “Sicario” shows how the bleak realization that no one is actually out to get you can break you. Still, this grinder was one of the best movies of the year.


    Follow Alex Furrier on Twitter.

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