With so many recent failed “War on [you fill in the blank],” it is grimly refreshing to see how honestly and creatively Denis Villeneuve brings Taylor Sheridan’s original screenplay to death and life.
The timeless notion, “you can’t prevent human nature” is in evidence on many fronts: as long as humans have vices—including a voracious appetite for mind-bending drugs (in this instance, sourced from Mexico)—then the War on Drugs will never be concluded, much less won; the searing need for revenge rather than justice (Benicio Del Toro’s marvellously dark character, Alejandro, is on extra vigilante duty following the death of both his wife and daughter at the bloody hands of the cartel); the near-epidemic mantra “we only follow the rules we like” on both sides of the conflict, most certainly muddies the waters as to who the bad guys actually are.
Caught in the middle of Alejandro’s murderous quest is FBI agent Kate Macer. Emily Blunt dives headfirst into the key role, turning on fierce courage, moral outrage, deep despair and pathetic resignation at the drop of a hat—it’s the strongest performance of a very strong cast.
Josh Brolin clearly savours his assignment as Matt Graver the elusive government tactical representative who assures everyone—when forced—that he has both support and sanction from “elected officials…to move the [international] boundaries and let the bodies fall where they may.”
The drama unfolds with compelling tautness and tension as the Americans zero in on the BIG target rather than spend endless hours and resources putting small-time players through their cherished legal system. In Mexico, a portrait of a rogue police officer (Maximiliano Hernández is ideally cast as the dad who plays soccer with his young son when not ferrying packets of heroin in the trunk of his squad car) creates just the right balance of those caught up in the drug trade who—on the outside—should be the ones to defeat it.
Absolutely superb is Roger Deakins’ ever-inventive cinematography: from airplane shadows on the ground, to a variety of textures and tones (notably night vision goggles) underneath it.
Jóhann Jóhannson’s drum-laden orchestral score adds much to the anticipation of terrors to come; the slithering low strings are especially effective and solo cellist Hildur Gudnadóttir provides welcome radiance not soon after a beautifully timed “thank you” between Kate and Alejandro.
The climactic scene as Sicario (assassin) stares down his prize, tellingly reinforces the notion that exacting sweet revenge can only lead to the next round of “don’t get mad, get even.” JWR