'Sicario' is a relentless, brutal look at the realities of the drug war

“Sicario” is as ugly and hopeless as the drug war itself.

The film wastes no time getting to the nitty-gritty as it opens with Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) leading the charge on her own FBI kidnapping task force. During the opening raid, forty-plus corpses are discovered in the walls of a home owned by a vicious Mexican cartel, and a Department of Defence consultant (Josh Brolin) plucks a shell-shocked Kate her from the field to join his inter-agency operation along with Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), another alleged DoD “consultant.”

From the very moment Kate agrees to join her new team, she is systematically lied to. She is told they’re going on a trip to El Paso, but wind up in the war-torn streets of Juarez, where limbless bodies hang in public view. Kate is never briefed on their operation and remains entirely in the dark until forced to speak-up, and this is par for the course.

As Kate becomes embedded deeper into this lawless world, her repeated attempts to play things “by-the-book” are systemically rejected. By the end of the film, the ugly truth is revealed: there’s no room for morals or ethics here. Welcome to the War on Drugs.

“Sicario” quite masterfully presents the harsh realities of life during a drug war. We are introduced to characters on all sides, and even dirty cops and cartel members are humanized, which makes the drama incredibly impactful and hard to swallow. This is a film so bleak that there are no rules — anything can happen, and to anyone.

“Sicario” is deliberately slow, but even then, it meanders a bit in the middle. Kate is a conduit for the audience, so we are just as sheltered by the lack of information as Kate herself, and this can be aggravating at times and make the film feel a bit airy and aimless.

It all builds towards an intense, uniquely shot sequence and an ending that gave me chills, and by then, I had forgiven the film’s (thematically intentional) disorientation. It’s a hauntingly graceful film, and the methodical pacing ultimately works in its favour.

Emily Blunt is fantastic as Kate Macer and nails the nuance associated with doing all she can to be on the right side of the law and still winding up on the dark side.

Benicio del Toro, however, is the film’s greatest asset as a mysterious force whose allegiances are not made explicitly clear until all is said and done. He’s equal parts thoughtful and brooding, which makes his rage and determination that much more palpable.

It’s hard to not crack a smile whenever Brolin’s character is on-screen, as he’s constantly busting balls and being so purposefully vague with his team. He’s hilarious yet so cold that it’s almost alarming that we find him so amusing.

Technically speaking, the film is gorgeous. The urgency of its pulsating score, the gorgeous photography (by cinema legend Roger Deakins), the commanding performances — every element works towards a full, truly cinematic experience. All the violence is handled in such a way that pops with intensity and dread.

The real beauty of “Sicario” is that it is entirely apolitical and amoral; it presents the horrors and lets them speak for themselves. It’s not pushing any sort of agenda, but it’s so relentlessly in-your-face that you’ll leave the theatre mortified at how real it all might be.

Watch the trailer below.

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