The tagline promoting Denis Villeneuve's brilliant new film SICARIO proclaims that "the border is just another line to cross". There is an exciting, incredibly tense border crossing in the film, but most of the boundaries jumped within these taut two hours are ones of personal limits, morality and justice.
The film opens in Chandler, Arizona (a little close to home for those of us in Mesa!) with a raid on a drop house for illegal aliens that turns out to be something much more.
Emily Blunt is idealistic FBI agent Kate, drafted by the government after the raid and dropped into a secret government task force to combat the Mexican drug cartels.
Josh Brolin is excellent as task force leader Matt Graver, who wants her to soak up every detail of his methods and goals. The quietest member of the group is Alejandro, whose allegiance, background and history is always in the dark.
Benecio del Toro should get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work here as Alejandro. He commands the screen every moment he's on it, ranging from stoic to violent at a seconds notice. del Toro is brilliant, you can't take your eyes off him.
Victor Garber and Jon Bernthal are very good, as is Jeffrey Donovan as Brolin's right hand man Steve, in a role as far from his recent part in "Fargo Season 2" as you can stretch.
As the task force jets around Mexico, stirring up trouble and attempting to disrupt the operations of the leading cartel, Kate finds herself pushed to the limit. Questioning the rules of engagement and the law (or lack thereof) she becomes the audience's surrogate as Director Villeneuve challenges us with how each of us feel about the ends justifying the means in America's drug war. After awhile, Kate and we are left wondering just what side we are on, with the tables of power and allegiances constantly shifting under our feet.
If you saw Villeneuve's debut American film, "Prisoners" with Hugh Jackman, you know how tight he can wind an audience. If you haven't seen that film, rent it immediately. Along with this fantastic movie, it shows one of the finest new directors in the movies. It's pretty exciting that he has been chosen to direct the new Blade Runner sequel with Harrison Ford.
The production design (Patrice Vermette) and photography (Roger Deakins) of Sicario are amazing, immersing you in the most desperate of neighborhoods in Juarez to the luxurious estates of drug lords.
The music by Johann Johannsson (The Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher) is incredibly good. Like Jonny Greenwood's score for "There Will Be Blood" or Trent Reznor's music for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" its ground breaking, haunting and game changing. From the opening frames of the titles, the driving, non-stop music builds incredible tension.
This is one of the best films I've seen this year, maybe in the past five years.
As suspenseful, exciting and riveting as it is thought provoking, SICARIO is a brilliant movie from beginning to end, in my all-time Top 100 and an A+.