Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin
Emily Blunt stars as a rookie FBI agent drafted into an inter-agency task force designed to foil the Mexican cartel, Josh Brolin plays her mysterious, sandal-wearing task force partner, and Benicio Del Toro is their quiet, deadly ally — the eponymous "sicario" (Spanish for "hitman"). All three of them do excellent work, with Blunt continuing to expand her range and prove she's one of the most versatile actors of her generation. She's the audience surrogate, as clueless as we are about what exactly she's supposed to do on this task force and her ultimate objective. "Nothing will make sense to your American ears," Del Toro's character says to her, and the film spends a considerable time keeping us in the dark. Any time she tries to get some answers about what's going on, Brolin frustratingly withholds information, but there's not much time to worry about it when they're in a dangerous city like Juarez, when mutilated bodies hang from underpasses and every person they see is a potential threat. Slowly — perhaps too slowly for some — the film finally reveals the truth about what's going on, and it's a satisfying, if somber, conclusion.
Villeneuve, who recently directed Prisoners and Enemy, reteams with famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, and that collaboration results in as spectacular a visual palette as you'd imagine; aside from the tense shootouts (especially one seen with night vision and thermal cameras in the third act), there's emphasis placed on innocuous things like sprawling bird's eye view shots of topography and bits of dust fluttering in beams of sunlight that peek through windows. There's a slow burn quality to the pacing, but it never feels get bogged down into feeling too slow — there's always a setpiece just a few minutes away: a bank robbery, a physical altercation, an interrogation.
Ostensibly about the drug trade, Sicario's script, the impressive debut from actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, is much more concerned with raising (but not answering) questions about whether America's ends justify our means. It's murky but compelling territory, and thanks to the tremendous talent gathered to tell this story, it ends up being one of the year's best action thrillers.