Sicario, the latest film by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, is good, but suffers from a few missteps that prevent it from being great. I am a big fan of Villeneuve, and find his work (Polytechnique, Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy) well-paced and interesting from both art and science perspectives. This film unfortunately doesn’t live up to those that came before it, lacking the stark realism of Polytechnique or the gripping plot twists of Prisoners and Enemy. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed Sicario overall, despite its flaws.
The film starts off extremely strong, with an intense and enthralling opening sequence. It’s good enough that I don’t want to ruin the details, even though it’s the first ten minutes of the film – but suffice it to say that with an artful balance of realism, shock value, and emotional acting, I was immediately hooked. A similarly tremendous sequence occurs a little later on, including the tense progress of a motorcade and a car-chase-that-isn’t-a-car-chase that left my gut reeling. Thus the film’s first half is endlessly suspenseful and utterly tense, leaving me on the edge of my seat. However, at about the halfway point Sicario starts to falter, losing its sense of immediacy, which uninvests the audience from the action. That being said, Villeneuve never holds back from the desolate subject matter, and is unafraid to be brutally honest in his portrayal.
I was impressed by both the soundtrack and the cinematography. Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson delivers a dark and brooding score, with constant sinister and ominous undertones. What’s more impressive is the glaring contrast between this score and his previous film, The Theory of Everything. The juxtaposition of these two films’ styles shows off his diversity as a composer, and I look forward to seeing more of his films. The cinematography is also stellar, especially in scene transitions. Where many films use typical stock-like sequences as filler between scenes, Sicario keeps you visually captivated by choosing unexpected, purposeful shots. Some moments that stand out are a unique perspective on a plane taking flight, lingering on dust hovering in front of a projector, and close-ups of the wind fluttering through various textiles. Additionally, either the shooting schedule was very lucky or they expertly waited for these perfect moments, but several scenes have stunning and poignantly relevant backdrops, including beautiful sunrises and a foreboding lightning storm.
Finally, and most importantly, I was disappointed with the plot development, especially in the second half, as well as Emily Blunt’s stereotypical role within it. I was excited for this film to have a strong female lead, which is what I expected from its trailers, but it turns out her character is a constant accessory, unable to make any meaningful action or get herself out of any trouble on her own. She is constantly moved around like a chess piece by her male counterparts, and has to rely on her partners to get her out of each and every tough situation. It’s truly not enough for a film to have female “lead” – the character has to be worth being there, and seem believable as a real, independent human being, which is something I definitely did not feel from Sicario.
The film as a whole is a good one, and I would recommend a viewing. Its positive elements, including its cinematography, score, and gripping first half, are enough to make it worthwhile, however the lackluster finale and uninspiring plot and character development prevent Sicario from achieving excellence. I honestly see this as a small misstep in Villeneuve’s career, but I think he has a lot more quality filmmaking in him – l look forward to seeing what world he artfully inhabits next.