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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 2, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 40
Mercilessly tense Sicario a descent into drug-fueled darkness
Arts & Entertainment
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Mercilessly tense Sicario a descent into drug-fueled darkness

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SICARIO
Now playing


In director Denis Villeneuve's world, hope and happiness are difficult to find. From Incendies to Prisoners to Enemy, the talented Canadian filmmaker looks straight into the darkest heart of the human condition and refuses to blink, going places few are comfortable hinting at let alone dealing with on an intimately personal level. He makes the viewer uncomfortable while also challenging their intellect, producing thought-provoking pieces of dramatic entertainment that blur every single moral and humanistic line they come into contact with.

Working with actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, Villeneuve has turned in his most unnervingly emotional cinematic effort yet with Sicario. Mercilessly tense, the film is a look at the dark side of the drug war, chronicling a driven, battle-hardened FBI Agent name Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) who for all her experience is wholly unprepared for the moral and legal ambiguities she's about to face. Urged to volunteer for a covert project by mysterious government operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), she and her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) are suddenly so deep inside the rabbit hole 'up' instantaneously becomes impossible to differentiate from 'down.'

Then there is the item that's truly throwing the two for a loop. It's a man, a secretive gentleman in a suit calling himself Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) that everyone, including the very much in-charge Graver, keeps deferring to seemingly at every turn. He's not a U.S. citizen, that much Kate can tell. But he's also by all accounts on their side, body and soul, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to see a downtick in violence permeating throughout the Texas/New Mexico/Arizona border area with Mexico no matter what the cost.

There are no heroes in Villeneuve and Sheridan's Sicario. There are, however, plenty of victims, and not all of them end up dead. Some have only the best of intentions, driven to do what it takes to see justice done as long as it follows the rule of law. But when those rules do not, cannot apply? When the villains doing the evil are beyond it? When they are protected in ways lawyers and courts can never penetrate? What happens then? And, for those who refuse to believe no one is above the law, what happens to them when their illusions are shattered and the wolves come braying at their door thirsting for blood?

Villeneuve pushes right into the middle of the carnage straightaway, Kate and Reggie leading an FBI tactical unit on a raid inside a cartel safe house in Arizona reportedly containing a handful of helpless hostages. But there are no hostages, and what they find inside the walls is beyond unspeakable. It is this discovery that leads Kate to accept Graver's offer. It is this discovery that allows her not to flinch when she finds herself part of a military convoy heading across the border to bring back a high-ranking cartel boss. It is this discovery that makes her force Graver into putting Reggie on the team, too, knowing he'll hopefully be a voice of reason as darkness descends.

And does it do just that.

Things get progressively murky, Villeneuve and Sheridan allowing the grey areas to wash away all the black and white so only indecision, chaos and mayhem remain. At the center, propelling things forward, is Alejandro, and even if events are not seen exclusively through his eyes, make no mistake, it is he that knows best what is happening and why. Del Toro inhabits this wounded, psychologically scarred man living in the shadows down to the marrow, his pain permeating every pore as he quietly longs for a justice he knows does not exist. It's a towering, deeply complicated performance, surpassing even his Oscar-winning turn in another drug drama, Steven Soderbergh's modern classic Traffic, that left me wowed by the depth and breadth of his magnificence.

At barely over two hours, the movie was over before I even knew it, in such constant motion, heading deeper and deeper into the gloomy waters of the subconscious, revealing answers to personal questions those who must grapple with them only thought they wanted to know, before finding themselves gob-smacked by the truth. Triumphantly shot by the great Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Unbroken), magnificently edited by Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave) and kinetically scored by Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything), every piece fits together perfectly. It's a relentless exercise in suspense. The anxiety throbbing through my veins was almost overwhelming as events ran their course, the emotional shock of the final moments so all-encompassing they overtook me completely.

Orchestrating all of this brilliantly is Villeneuve. The avenues left unexplored are few, far between and all by choice, the questions left dangling entirely by design. He allows Kate's growing uncertainty and despair to insidiously feed into every second of the proceedings, so even when we stop seeing things as she does and begin to look at events coldly, unsympathetically anew through Del Toro, the overall effect is shattering. Sicario lives up to its title, this Mexican slang for a hitman aiming its gunsights at the viewer, leaving those of us who watch broken and battered into a reinforced shell of regret and understanding we might not be able to emerge from anytime soon.

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SLGFF OPENING NIGHT FILM: An interview with Freeheld co-star Ellen Page
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Seattle Women's Chorus presents
'Hallows in the Cathedral: Spirits Rising'
with Guest Star Rebekah Del Rio (10/23 & 24 ONLY)

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Pacific Northwest Ballet: 'See the Music'
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Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival celebrates 20th Anniversary October 8-18
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An interview with Audra McDonald
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The Art of Bad Men an unusual story brought to life with verve
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Glyndebourne La Traviata with Michael Fabiano
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'Queen: It's a Kinda Magic' recreates the Queen sensation
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October 2015 brings another month of exciting theater openings
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Philadelphia lives op to its name: City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love
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Horror Fest 2015 showcases radio thrillers
Puget Sound FM celebrates Halloween with a free collection and a month of programming specials.

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Reflections on the county clerk in Kentucky
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Visually thrilling Walk an emotional coup
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Roth's Inferno a horrific descent into inhuman madness
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Mercilessly tense Sicario a descent into drug-fueled darkness
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Emotion and nature walk hand-in-hand in Wildlike
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