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Movie Night – 'Sicario' keeps viewers on edge of seat (Oct. 21, 2015 issue)

After watching “Prisoners” and recent theatrical release “Sicario,” you can sign me up for any movies directed by Denis Villeneuve. The Canadian filmmaker is adept at bringing intense dramas to the big screen and getting the absolute best out of his actors. “Sicario” is no exception.
Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a young and idealistic FBI agent. She leads a SWAT team specializing in kidnappings. As the movie begins she is leading her team to a seemingly modest and normal residence in Chandler, Arizona where they believe a Mexican drug cartel is holding kidnapped victims. What she finds instead is an abomination and her team suffers several casualties during the raid.
After the casualties to her team Kate wants revenge. Instead, she is provided with an unusual opportunity. She’s approached by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a shadowy government agent who won’t say exactly what agency he works for. He offers Kate the opportunity to stop chasing after the low-level drug dealers in Chandler, Arizona. Graver gives her the chance to get to the heart of the matter, to get the people who were really responsible for the deaths of her agents.
Kate accepts the assignment and is quickly whisked away on a small private jet with Graver and a slightly disheveled man whom she later learns goes by the name Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). While Graver plays his cards close to his chest, Alejandro is a veritable sphinx. He rarely talks, and when he does it’s only for a few syllables at a time.
The next thing Kate knows the plane has landed not in El Paso as she was told, but in Juarez, Mexico. Thus begins the journey Kate takes with Graver and Alejandro as they attempt to strike at the heart of the cartel and make a real difference in the war on drugs. The problem for Kate is that both Graver and Alejandro keep her in the dark every step of the way.
“Sicario” is not an action movie. It’s more like a drama chock-full of action. While some people believe the pacing of the movie is slow, I found it intense from the opening frame until the closing scene. There’s plenty of gunplay and fighting and those scenes are filmed in such a way as to maximize the drama. But what makes the movie so good is the tension developed in the scenes between shootouts and explosions.
There’s a great element of storytelling in the movie also. The moviegoer sees the story through the eyes of Kate. As Kate wanders through scene after scene with only a vague idea of their objective, you can feel her frustration. The full body of the plot is not revealed until the end, keeping you in suspense for the entire movie.
For Graver and Alejandro, the ends justify the means. They will do whatever it takes to win against the cartel. Kate may agree with them, but she is never given the chance, they never tell her their plans and they keep secrets from her every step of the way.
The acting in all three of the main roles is tremendous. Emily Blunt is simply one of the best actresses in Hollywood. She is the rare actress that can handle the physicality of the action scenes while also nailing the soft-spoken dramatic scenes that make up the heart of the movie. Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are the perfect yin to Blunt’s yang. It’s an all-star cast of actors who perform like the all-stars they are.
“Sicario” is not for the faint of heart. It’s a movie about the drug war and an attempt to bring the Mexican drug cartels to their knees, there’s no way it could possibly have anything but an R rating. The movie will keep you on the edge of your seat from the beginning until the very end. If you like a good drama with great writing, acting, and direction, “Sicario” is the movie for you.
Grade: A
Rated R for strong violence, grisly images, and language.