Along with fellow Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Cate Blanchett and Javier Bardem, Del Toro’s mere screen presence now demands our attention knowing that one look, one gesture, one well-orchestrated pause, can propel the story more effectively than any written dialogue or piece of action.
Sicario tells the story of an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who gets enlisted by a government task force to cross the border into Mexico and disrupt the drug cartel responsible for wreaking havoc on U.S. border towns.
The film opens with a grisly raid on an Arizona drug house that reveals dozens of corpses bagged and dry walled, with a surprise waiting for them in the garage. It’s the kind of effectively violent opening scene that sets the tone for the arc of the story, giving the audience a clear understanding of the type of evil involved and the stakes for the law enforcement men and women assigned to pursue them.
Josh Brolin plays the all-knowing CIA agent who enlists Blunt to the task force. Both give solid performances in their “Realism vs. Idealism” showdown.
But the film belongs to Benicio Del Toro, a mysterious, soft-spoken sicario (a front title card informs us “sicario” is Spanish for “hit man”), who has a score to settle, but develops a soft spot for Blunt.
“You remind me of someone very special,” he tells her early on in the picture.
Del Toro won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000); but most remember him as the mumble-mouthed, low rent hood, Fenster, in Bryan Singer’s brilliant caper flick, The Usual Suspects (1995). Was that really 20 years ago? I watch The Usual Suspects with my sons every few months, never gets old.
Director Denis Villeneuve’s prior film, Prisoners, irritated the heck out of me. One of my least favorite films of recent years. With Sicario he found just the right touch and tone – and his casting choices much stronger. The film does have pacing issues in the first hour, but once it hits its stride it never looks back.
If you miss this one on the big screen, it will make an interesting home viewing companion piece to the recent Netflix series on Pablo Escobar, Narcos.
Both stories lay out the dilemma in our war on drugs. If our addiction/consumption/demand for illegal drugs cannot be squashed, then managing the problem is better than chasing our tail in hopes of eliminating it.