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Review: ‘Sicario’ is a tale of revenge and the horrors of the cartel

One of the most powerful shots of Sicario is an extended helicopter shot of the U.S.-Mexico border that highlights the disparity in living between the two countries. Of greater focus is how the city of Juarez is suffering under cartel reign.

This tense thriller about the horrors of the drug wars states in its the opening scene: “Sicario” is the Spanish slang term for “hitman,” deriving from a term for zealots in ancient Jerusalem who hunted and killed Romans that invaded their homeland. It also establishes the tone of the film.

This is a no-nonsense, armrest-clenching type of film. Part of that is achieved by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s heart-racing score, but the biggest chunk of credit goes to screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, director Denis Villeneuve and the always great cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Sheridan sets up the movie with Kate Macy (Emily Blunt) and fellow FBI agents ambushing a home, owned by cartel “jefe” Manuel Diaz (Bernardo Saracino), to bust someone for charges of holding immigrants from Mexico hostage. But what Macy and her unit end up finding are about 45 corpses hanging on the house’s structure covered by plastic bags and drywall. After the film’s leads are almost shot in the head during the first 3 minutes of action it establishes a real any-character-can-die-at-any-time mentality.

The death of two officers as a result of the raid triggers Macy to seek revenge — an underlying theme throughout the film. She joins forces with Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), two men working for unspecified government departments focusing on drug trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border in order to locate Manuel Diaz.

Along the way, Kate finds out that Matt and Alejandro, who actually served for the Colombian cartel in his past, don’t do things according to the book, putting her morals to the test.

Deakins’ cinematography lays out outstanding shots and uses different cameras to effectively capture the volatile nature of war. When agents raid an underground tunnel used for transporting narcotics, instead of lighting up the scenery like a Hollywood set, the cameras shift to night-vision and thermal cameras give a first-person experience of the action.

Director Villeneuve delivers a strong film to follow up his previous movie, “Prisoners,” giving a credible reputation of making his audience tense and captivated. Emily Blunt is equally impressive, proving she is a badass with her performance as an honest-but-tough FBI agent.

Sicario is rated R with a runtime of 121 minutes.


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Mike Mendoza

Mike Mendoza