Cannes: Sicario review

Director Denis Villeneuve has carved out a moderately successful career of late, making polished thrillers about Serious Subjects with a pair of capital Ss. His latest, Sicario suggests he has no intention of diverging from this path.

This is border thriller, centred on an elite group of mostly American special agents carrying out a clandestine operation in both Mexico and the U.S. In practice this means two hours of brooding and detailed process, as we see highly trained operatives attempting to upset the balance of power in Juarez and, at least partially, dismantle the city’s drug cartels.

The group is led by the charismatic, morally questionable Matt (Josh Brolin). He’s aided by a Consultant of dubious origin named Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) and rookie recruit from the FBI, Kate (Emily Blunt).

Kate is very much the audience surrogate, but Villeneuve, working from a script by Taylor Sheridan, takes this idea a little too far. Kate is kept almost entirely in the dark and so the audience have little way of getting a bearing on where the the story and the clearly highly sensitive operation are headed.

Kate volunteers is initially motivated by revenger, moved to join the mission after an op of her own goes bad. She’s keen to track down the men responsible for her previous failure, but Matt and Alejandro refuse to actually let her know what’s going on, much less how they are going to achieve her goals. her what is going on and how they are going to achieve this.

As a result, Kate and her dull sidekick Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) are left to constantly ask “Why?” at every turn. They receive so few answers and enter so many situations entirely blind that it becomes frustrating for the audience.

Luckily, the rather silly scenes of characters shouting “Why?”, “How?” and “I don’t understand!” over and over are well-spaced around the film’s real material: a string of muscular and gripping action sequences. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has managed to find more dramatic ways shoot cars driving down a road than I ever thought possible and Johann Johannsson’s booming, tonal score creates enough tension that the audience could close their eyes and still get knots in their stomachs.

But this is nothing more than impressive process, either in front of the camera or behind. As I watched these operatives carry out their various missions, I found no opportunity to get anything more evolved than my lizard brain involved.

Villeneuve and Sheridan were no doubt shooting for very some serious thematic ideas with Sicario, in respect of both the ‘drug war’ and, more broadly, the loss of innocence, but their high powered shots mostly skim right past the targets they were aiming for.

A technically impressive and bold thriller, Sicario will leave you often holding your breath and gripped by its intensity, but whenever you take a moment to breathe and think about what you are watching, the house of cards is likely to come tumbling down.