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Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Produced by Basil Iwanyk, Thad Luckinbill, Edward McDonnell, and Molly Smith. Written by Taylor Sheridan. Release date: September 17, 2015 (limited); October 2, 2015 (wide).

In the movies, it’s far too often the case that black and white are the only shades with which the world is viewed. The good guys and villains are pointed out to us with great clarity, and we never for a moment begin to question their roles. We root for the hero, hope for the defeat of the antagonist, and that’s that. So, when a movie like Sicario comes around, which deals with a very real-world issue, it stands out by dealing in shades of gray. After all, real life more often than not isn’t so clear-cut.

The aforementioned real-life issue is the war on drugs. Emily Blunt stars as Kate Macer, an idealistic and perhaps naive FBI agent who is recruited to join a group focused on taking down a Mexican drug lord. Instead of only finding dead bodies, which was all she was doing before, she believes that she’ll be able to prevent them by becoming a part of this team. However, under the leadership of Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), she soon learns that there’s a lot more to this war than meets the eye.

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It might not be exactly surprising to many members of the audience that both sides of the war do some decidedly shady things in an attempt to gain an advantage, but it’s not something that we get to see in the movies all that often. Sicario shows it in full view, dropping someone ignorant of all the goings-on – an audience surrogate character – and placing her front-and-center, bearing witness to all of the “controversial” steps that are taken by the government along the way. It’s shocking not because of what happens, but because we get to see it – and thanks to the reactions of Emily Blunt, who cannot believe the atrocities placed before her eyes.

In addition, we’ve also got a minor, but effective, story of revenge going on, although to detail exactly who or why would constitute spoilers. The tale about the war on drugs would be enough, but throwing this in – particularly at the end – generates even more shocks. One of the last scenes in the movie will leave you wide-eyed, unable to believe that we went there.

Sicario is a tense thriller with a brain and a message, showcasing the darker side to the war on drugs.

Sicario succeeds on the whole because of what it portrays and the way it goes about it, but it would fail as a thriller if it didn’t also generate suspense as the proceedings take place. Thankfully, it’s been directed by Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners), who is one of the best currently working at creating thrills. Individual scenes are so tense that they’ll leave you unable to move until they end. Sicario is edge-of-your-seat entertainment combined with a strong but complicated message. It’s hard to do much better than that.

Emily Blunt continues to cement her role as an actor to watch, here playing an FBI agent who sees things she never expected and has to convey to us the psychological trauma that comes both from the act of simply beholding some of the horrors, as well as from having her ideals shattered right before her eyes. Josh Brolin’s slacker team leader is funny at first, but when he springs into action, you realize why they cast Josh Brolin for the role. And Benicio del Toro, who spends much of the movie on the sidelines, really earns his paycheck in the film’s second half, when he becomes the most captivating actor in the movie. He is Sicario‘s secret weapon, and he’s unleashed at the perfect time.

Sicario is a tense thriller with a brain and a message, showcasing the darker side to the war on drugs. Individual moments are filled with so much suspense that you’ll struggle to look away from the screen, even though what’s being shown is hard to watch. The film strips away any idealism from the war on drugs, painting both sides in varying shades of gray that the movies so often try to force into camps of black or white. With deep and interesting characters, an incredible amount of suspense, great acting, and an unconventional approach to its story and subject matter, Sicario isn’t a movie to miss.

Bottom Line: Sicario is another fantastic effort from Denis Villeneuve.

Recommendation: Another one of 2015’s must-sees, Sicario should be watched by anyone who likes smart, thrilling movies.



If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.

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