Sicario Review: Villeneuve’s brilliant thrill ride is the perfect film to usher in Oscar season

Published 12:32 pm Saturday, September 26, 2015

by Lauren Bradshaw

There are good movies and there are great movies. “Sicario,” directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”), is not only a great movie, it is the best movie so far this year and the perfect film to usher in Oscar season. Yes, believe it or not, it’s that time of year when the studios open their cinematic floodgates and start releasing their best material to generate Oscar buzz. And if the rest of the field is anything like “Sicario,” we are in for a doozy of a year.

From its haunting score, to its excellent performances and gorgeous cinematography (shot by the always-brilliant Roger Deakins), “Sicario” is a thrill ride that doesn’t stop moving until the end credits roll. In the drug war that especially plagues the states along the Mexican border, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. That same moral ambiguity is brilliantly represented in this film, with every character exuding an air of mystery, some more so than others. Be it the green FBI agent or the seasoned spook, each character is brilliantly written, with multiple layers of depth and hidden motivations boiling under the surface. Much like on the real front lines of the ever-expanding drug wars, just because someone is wearing a badge doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is a good guy.

The second “Sicario” begins, it’s easy to tell that this film will pull no punches when it comes to showing the graphic, violent business of drug cartels. While on a tactical mission with her team, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) comes face to face with a literal house of horrors. Bodies upon bodies are hidden in every crevice of the house. But when a booby trap is ignited, harming people on her team, Kate decides to join a special task force to bring down the kingpin responsible for it all, Fausto Alarcon.

CIA spook and team leader Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), along with a more shadowy figure named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), lead Kate on a mission into the heart of cartel-controlled Mexico. Thrilling car chases and raids populate the plot, making you feel as much a part of the action as Kate. “What is the objective of the mission,” Kate asks many times to the deaf ears of her teammates, as she noticed she was being more of a witness than an active participant in the various missions. Through Kate’s experience, you realize that there may be more to this black-ops task force than meets the eye. Is the smart, yet “by the books” Kate in way over her head?

“Sicario” is slang for “hitman” in Spanish, and for a majority of the movie, it is a mystery as to who exactly the sicario is. But the beauty of this film is that it is so thrilling and enrapturing, none of my brain cells were spent trying to figure out the mystery. I was so wrapped up in the story, it was as if time stopped… along with my heart during many of the suspenseful scenes.

Sometimes when you want to keep up with the bad guys, you have to get your hands dirty too. “Sicario” questions just how far are our law enforcement officials are willing to go to nab the bad guys. Are they willing to skirt the laws Americans hold dear in order to keep the country safe in the long run (if that is their mission all along)? And how will their reinterpretations of the Constitution affect the mission of government entities in the long-run?

“Sicario” is so phenomenal, I literally turned to my friend during the middle of the movie to say, “THIS MOVIE IS SO GOOD!” Not only that, it is a film that will stay with you days after seeing it and will maybe even make you think twice when you see news stories about the increasing problems of drug cartel activity in the United States and Mexico. “Sicario” encapsulates what movies do best, bringing peripheral issues right to your doorstep, and dares you to not think deeper about one of the scariest issues affecting this country. Run, don’t walk to your closest theater and see this film as soon as you can and hold onto your butts, Oscar season is here.

My Review: A+

LAUREN BRADSHAW grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area and can be reached at