Of the nearly 400 films being showcased at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario was the one film at the top of my ‘Must See’ list. Having premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it went on to be nominated for the prestigious Palme D’Or, Sicario stars Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro as members of a government task force who attempt to apprehend a villainous drug lord.
Director Denis Villeneuve is on some kind of roll. His previous films – Polytechnique, Incendies and Prisoners – were all thought provoking character pieces offset by realistic and graphic depictions of violence. Sicario opens with just such a scene as Blunt’s Kate Macer leads a rain on a Mexican drug house near Phoenix, Arizona and discovers dozens of executed victims packed into the walls. Audiences will have barely settled in their seats and scrunched on but a handful of popcorn kernels when the shocking revelation is revealed on screen.
From here, Macer is forced to work with Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Del Toro) who works as a sort of fixer on both sides of the border. Their work leads them to drug trafficker Fausto (Julio Cesar Cedillo) and the group then works to transport the criminal back across the border. Their journey will be met with many obstacles with shoot-outs at border crossings and a tense hunt and shoot inside a drug trafficking tunnel connecting the two countries.
The focus of Sicario (which is Mexican slang for ‘hitman’) is clearly on Blunt’s lead character and Blunt is up to the task in being the smartest person in the room while also being the one most left in the dark as to the team’s objectives. She will be continually conflicted by her male peers particularly their penchant for instigating or responding forcefully to appeared violence. The action settled between Macer’s first-hand education thrust the film forward to a very satisfying and acceptable conclusion.
The supporting cast is equally engrossing particularly Del Toro who will be on screen for most all of the film’s most memorable shots. Del Toro’s character is clouded in mystery and unclear motives and Del Toro gives his best performance since Traffic.
Sicario was penned by Taylor Sheridan who played Deputy Chief Hale on FX’s Sons of Anarchy. His take on the war on drugs and the violence and human costs that surround the battle are dead on target. The realism results in Sicario being hardly the crowd-pleaser. It is a bleak and grim film that might just be Villeneuve’s best work to date.
The photography by Roger Deakins is stunning. Expect Deakins to garnish another Academy Award nomination for his efforts here to go with his work on The Shawshank Redemption and Skyfall.
Also worthy of note is the music by Jóhann Jóhannsson that grabs you by the balls while the action unfolds.
Sicario might be too bleak for Academy voters, but make no mistake of Sicario’s impact and brilliance. It was on my ‘Must See’ list for a reason and did not disappoint. Easily the best film of the year so far.