[Screen It]


(2015) (Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro) (R)

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Action/Drama: A FBI agent joins a higher level federal team that's desirous of bringing down a Mexican drug cartel no matter the associated costs.
Kate Macer (EMILY BLUNT) has worked the past three years as a FBI agent on their kidnap response team in Arizona. When she, her partner Reggie (DANIEL KALUUYA) and others raid a house, they discover the grisly extent to which a Mexican drug cartel has made its way north of the national border. When some on her team are killed by a subsequent booby-trap, she has no problem joining a special federal task force run by Matt Graves (JOSH BROLIN).

His desire is to bring down the powerful and deadly cartel run by Fausto Alarcon (JULIO CEDILLO), and hopes to use one of that man's lieutenants, Rafael Diaz (RAOUL TRUJILLO), to lead him there. But his main ace in the hole is former Mexican prosecutor turned hitman for hire, Alejandro (BENICIO DEL TORO), who has a personal grudge against the cartel and isn't above using torture and deadly violence to achieve that.

When a trip south across the border to retrieve a Mexican drug figure turns deadly, Kate realizes Matt and his team are not playing by the book or international law. She wants answers, but he and Alejandro are hesitant to inform her of much. All of which leads her and Reggie to a local bar where she figures a little R&R with Phoenix cop Ted (JON BERNTHAL) might do her some good, although even that doesn't turn out as she expected.

As her team continues on its quest, and Mexican police offers such as Silvio (MAXIMILLIANO HERNANDEZ) do their job on the other side of the border, Kate tries to come to grips with their end goal and the means to which they'll go to get there.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
There's no easy solution to the drug problem in America. Legalize some or all such substances, and addiction, other medical issues and lowered overall national productivity could result. Continue criminalizing it and prisons (already filled, according to some reports, with more non-violent drug offenders than violent convicts) would overflow, while the money spent on fighting the drug war would keep increasing along with the drug use it's not remotely stopping.

Granted, something needs to be done as the likes of the many Mexican drug cartels have resulted in a plethora of innocent lives being shattered at best and lost at worst. Accordingly, some may argue that desperate times call for desperate measures, be that building a nearly 2,000 mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or having our government working above or below the current law to deal with such issues.

The latter is what fuels "Sicario," a dramatic thriller that's not for the faint of heart but so far is one of the best films of 2015. After a brief text definition of the title -- Sicario essentially means hitman -- we join our protagonist-meets-viewer surrogate (a terrific Emily Blunt) as she and her FBI comrades raid a house, only to find a number of unpleasant surprises in the "construction" of said abode.

She's then whisked away with her FBI partner (Daniel Kaluuya) to meet a number of government types (led by Josh Brolin's laidback but likely all business character) that obviously don't operate under normal rules and federal guidelines. They want Kate to join their effort, arguing that she obviously realizes her work on the domestic front is barely scratching the surface of fixing a much bigger issue. Since some of her team perished in the opening raid, she agrees, although she clearly has no idea what she's signing on for.

That comes to light in an impressive action sequence -- one of several -- orchestrated by Denis Villeneuve (who previously helmed the equally gritty "Prisoners"). Blunt's character joins Brolin's and the enigmatic mystery man played to perfection by Benicio Del Toro, along with others, on a border crossing to pick up and return a drug cartel man back to the U.S. Traffic doesn't agree, and things get particularly hairy as the feds and a number of unsavory types get stuck in a literal and moral/legal jam.

The resultant solution doesn't sit well with our protagonist (who's just as much in the dark as most viewers will be), but she's told to just go along for the ride and learn. Needing a little R&R, she also comes to learn just how far the other side will go to strike back, and she realizes she's now heading down a rabbit hole of grey morality.

There's nothing really new here, as other films have covered a lot of the same ground and that sort of material (be that the drug trade, or U.S. officials bending rules to get things accomplished). Heck, Del Toro already appeared in one such flick, Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic."

But Villeneuve , the always terrific cinematographer Roger Deakins (who comes up with such amazing, symbolic shots) and composer Jˇhann Jˇhannsson (tapping into an old, 1960s style score that feels relentlessly primal...in a good and effective way) infuse the film with a sense of dread, while screenwriter Taylor Sheridan doesn't waste any words on unneeded dialogue in moving the story along. Performances are top-notch across the board.

The result is a drug war drama that often feels and plays out somewhat like a horror film, but one with an important -- if obvious -- message about the dangers and pitfalls of battling the devil, so to speak, while making deals with other demons to help in the combat. It's obviously not going to be for all viewers (particularly those simply wanting escapism entertainment), but this is undeniably a stellar piece of work. "Sicario" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 14, 2015 / Posted September 25, 2015

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