Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”)
Written by: Taylor Sheridan (debut)
As a life-long Texan, in the last 30 years I’ve seen Mexico’s border towns along the Rio Grande go from quick day trips where you could buy cheap tequila and handmade leather belts to cartel-run nightmares where violence rules and American tourists fear to tread. Four years ago, I stood on a rooftop in Eagle Pass, Texas – looking half a mile down the road into Piedras Negras – and wondered if it would ever be as safe as it was when I was a kid to pay 20 cents to walk across the international bridge. After seeing the fantastic “Sicario,” however, I’m thinking the border may not be somewhere I – or anyone else – will be able to safely visit (or live) again.
When a raid in suburban Phoenix looking for kidnap victims turns into a house of horrors and costs several Phoenix PD officers their lives, FBI special agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is invited to join a shadowy inter-agency mission with the CIA led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, sporting a perpetual shit-eating grin) and assisted by the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Macer tags along to El Paso, only to find Special Forces soldiers gearing up for a grab-and-go mission into Juarez, Mexico, that culminates in the sort of casual international violence that would be an act of war if the interaction was between any nations other than the United States and Mexico. As Mercer dives deeper into the hell on Earth that is the Mexican border and the war on drugs, she finds herself torn between trying to cut the head off a snake via less than legal means or live with a never-ending war.
Director Denis Villeneuve isn’t shy about portraying Mexico as an essentially lawless hellhole dominated by drug cartels and unspeakable violence, a point of view that may serve to validate the ramblings of Donald Trump to certain interested parties. Politics aside, Villeneuve stages most of the action through Mercer’s point of view, pushing the character past her limits by making her a pawn in the game between the CIA, the cartel, and whoever it is Alejandro answers to. With explosive violence bubbling beneath the surface at times – none better than a white-knuckle traffic jam on an international bridge – and solid work from Blunt, Brolin, and Del Toro, “Sicario” is timely and powerful enough to excuse some minor faults that, from time to time, seem to place Del Toro’s character outside of the reality the rest of the movie inhabits. Even so, “Sicario” remains one of the best movies of the year.