I’ve been waiting for Sicario to come out for a while, I was gutted when I missed the opportunity to see it at the cinema. I watched one of the Director’s (Denis Villeneuve) previous films, Prisoners, and was impressed with the 70’s style slow burn thriller that he’d produced and was really looking forward to seeing his latest effort.
After a raid on a house owned by the drug cartel ends with deadly consequences, FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is asked to join an inter agency task force by shadowy agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to track down and disrupt the operations of the Mexican cartel responsible. This takes them on operations back and forth across the border with the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) who has his own hidden agenda for being involved.
The film begins with the raid on the house, the aim being to free hostages held by a gang. The raid soon turns sour as numerous bodies wrapped in plastic are found in the walls and two officers are killed by an explosion when a booby trapped cellar door is opened. The brutality of these actions clearly shock and appall the FBI team, the sight and smell making them gag, even the experienced Kate is affected, she’s been knocking down doors for three years and has never seen anything like this.
The bodies in the wall and the explosion change Kate, she needs answers, which is why she agrees to join the task force with little to no information.
The filming of this scene sets the tone for the rest of the film. The camera is handheld moving, as if you’re another member of the team during the raid, looking around corners to check for danger and trying to take everything in. It’s fast moving and urgent, using this movement to compliment the cuts and add tension. The camera leans to the left but not quite enough to be a Dutch tilt. It gives the feeling that there’s something not quite right with the whole situation and is used in other parts of the film to convey the insanity of the situation that is the war on drugs in America.
The lighting setups are motivated, using light sources coming through windows, from fluorescent lighting tubes or the interior lights of a car. This is used to clever effect at times, red light across Kate’s face after she shoots a man dead comes from a red sheet covering the window. The danger to a suspect being interrogated by Alejandro is given extra weight with the blue and red flashing lights of Police cars adding to the tension in the scene. It cleverly manages to add tension and meaning to the film whilst giving it the air of realism that really draws you in.
The trips into Mexico are treated like military operations with Kate, Matt and Alejandro joined by Delta force and heavily armed Mexican Police officers who all have their faces covered. The reasons for this become very apparent when they enter Juarez, headless bodies are strung up from underneath the highway, gunshots can be heard in the background and roads are blocked off along their root. They’re definitely not in Arizona anymore.
Later on there is another raid, this time between borders in a tunnel network used by drug smugglers. Parts of the sequence uses night vision and thermal cameras so we see what Kate and the others see. This makes the world look alien, the rocks all in a green or grey hue as they make their way towards the tunnel. It adds tension but also dehumanises the bodies left lying on the floor, they just look like inanimate objects, like they’ve been playing a computer game. This is a numbers game plain and simple, how can we get rid of some of them and make the drug problem more manageable. Deep down they know the war is lost and the policies don’t work, so they will police it the best they can.
There is an empty hollow feeling you’re left with after watching Sicario, I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but that’s the point. The futility of the American policies dealing with the drug trade, shoot or arrest one and there’s two more guys to take his place, even worse they could cause even more carnage fighting it out over who that will be. It’s a fight that can’t be won but has gone on for so long they can’t admit they’ve lost, which leads them to work with who they believe is the easiest group of individuals to manipulate.
Sicario was definitely worth the wait, a high tension thriller that kept me gripped all the way through with great performances from the main cast. It may leave you feeling drained, the lives broken and torn apart by greed and malice, the pointlessness of the situation. But hey, a good film is one you remember, because it made you feel something, be that good or bad.