You hear the name Benicio Del Toro. Now, what’s the first thing your mind conjures up? Method acting? Meticulous and immersive performances? It is true, almost universally, of his entire body of work.
From 21 Grams to Savages and even Guardians of the Galaxy in the MCU, Del Toro has been a Hollywood mainstay who portrays characters that, while not totally independent of one another, shine on the silver screen.
In Denis Villeneuve’s (Prisoners) latest film, Del Toro plays a merciless former prosecutor turned “consultant” who says “I go where I’m sent.” By the time viewers learn about his character, named Alejandro Gillick, he has simply stolen the show. While Emily Blunt (playing an ambitious, moral FBI agent named Kate Macer) also delivers a rousing performance and is considered the main character, it is truly Del Toro’s movie to “win or lose.” More specifically, Sicario sets out to describe the uncensored version of life at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Macer is a fairly “green” FBI agent, brought in to work on an inter-agency task force to take down an ensconced cartel led by Manuel Diaz (senior member in the U.S., played by Bernardo P. Saracino) and Fausto Alarcon (the “Jefe,” played by Julio Cedillo). The U.S.-led operation is fronted by slick CIA operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), and his task force pushes its way into Mexico, creating some noise, to claw towards Alarcon. Even still, they are aided, and arguably driven, by the wandering “adviser” Alejandro, who has his own axe to grind with the Jefe.
It could be said that Del Toro truly takes a hold of this film with all he has — channeling the unbridled energy of the “grieving lawyer,” just the way the Jefe claims he does. Perhaps the only quibble of the film is an identity crisis, of sorts. As in, who is the main character? Who should viewers pull for? It’s obvious that Villeneuve and writer Taylor Sheridan stage it so that Blunt’s character bears most of this moral weight, but she is often too credulous or wide-eyed at the whole ordeal to absorb what’s going on. And Josh Brolin’s character is too tightly attached to the script for plotting purposes to really absorb. That leaves Alejandro, yet we all know what type of character the 48-year-old Del Toro tends to depict. Is he an antihero? Perhaps.
Aside from the character-related blip, Sicario is still an exceedingly captivating film, perhaps one of the year’s best. Villeneuve’s frames retain so much depth that it seems as though viewers are looking past the bleak Mexican streets and straight into the hearts, or lack thereof, of the surly people that keep the cartel/smuggling enterprise afloat. It becomes almost an existential piece, the lifeblood of the film being the realities of mule-laden Mexico and the complacency that has taken hold there.
Aside from Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins captures the story so thoroughly, and has the capability of turning bleak Mexican streets into lively still frames and Shanty Towns practically into activist art. His work, as made known through his collaborations with the Coen Brothers and Sam Mendes, to name a few, is so ubiquitous, it’s hard to believe folks will forget the carefully shadowed face of Del Toro or the constrictive tunnel scenes shot POV with thermal imaging. Lastly, editor Joe Walker does a commendable job at tightening the long takes during the car chases, and he cuts the confrontational scenes together quite adeptly. The work of these crew members is also augmented by the score from Johann Johannsson, which may be a bit too commanding at times, but all in all adds suspense to an already evocative filmic world.
At 121 minutes, Sicario does appear to be a bit longer at points, which is conceivably a direct result of the long takes and the honed-in sort of focus on Del Toro’s pursuit, but it is not a grueling, drawn out sort of running time. If there is something that director Villeneuve wants viewers to take away from this thriller, it’s that no matter the intervention, or sanction, this lawlessness will continue until there is a sweeping change of mindset, or means, in the border country. Sheridan’s story begins with a bang and goes out with loose ends tied up, yet still the trafficking continues.
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