The opening sequence of the new drug war thriller Sicario features a raid right out of a Tom Clancy novel. In an Arizona suburb, a TAC team converges on a house, rifles raised and moving with the trained discipline of deadly professionals. The camera moves with a similar purpose, a gracious alternative to the “shaky cam” style so popular with many lesser action movies.
You can tell Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro paid attention in class by the way she handles a Glock .40 or the way he aims an MP5 downrange.
The film that follows cares about details. While I’m no expert in tactical operations, I still felt that the action depicted was evocative of how it’s actually done. The best action movies put their actors through training courses, and you can tell Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro paid attention in class by the way she handles a Glock .40 or the way he aims an MP5 downrange. One scene includes a briefing room packed with don’t-f***-with-me operators—bearded, grizzled, decked out in plate carriers and carbines with rail-mounted foregrips and EOTech sights. Another sequence is shot in an absolutely electrifying combo of thermal imagery, first-person night vision, and God’s-eye satellite shots. The movie is a love-letter to tactical enthusiasts, combat vets, and badasses. In short, it’s a GovX kind of movie.
But while you may come for the tactical details, stay for the story. Sicario’s moral compass is a fascinating shade of grey. It’s not a good guys-versus-bad guys film, and it’s not merely American gunslingers at war with Mexican cartel goons. Emily Blunt’s character—protagonist and FBI SWAT officer Kate Macer—is asked to volunteer for an operation shrouded in secrecy, and the audience shares her “WTF is going on” mentality as the black SUVs roll into the violent gangland of Juarez.
Blunt’s incredible performance makes it easy to empathize with Kate. In addition to portraying a totally believable door kicker, Blunt brings out the film’s sub-theme of emotional trauma through the personal moments she gives us. Her straight-shot world of good-vs-evil law enforcement receives a shakedown which takes a toll on her composure. It’s also worth stressing that this has nothing to do with her gender. This would affect anyone. In fact, the film alludes to the possibility that many male characters in the film were once just like her. She’s just now getting thrown into this hell, and her exposure to it will harden her, perhaps just like it hardened Josh Brolin’s maybe/maybe-not CIA character.
Adding to the intrigue is Benicio Del Toro’s character, Alejandro. Where is he from? What’s his role on this mission? Why is he so good at headshots? Del Toro brings magnetism to the screen. I don’t like using the cliché that he steals the show—mostly because it’s impossible to rob from Blunt’s performance—but every one of his scenes commands attention. Whether he’s wearing a suit and tie or a black ski mask, you hang on his every moment. Though I’d still consider Kate the movie’s protagonist, the story also belongs to Alejandro, especially as the layered intrigue around him peels back.
Action scenes accomplish a level of tension that wouldn’t be out of a place in a horror movie. The Atlantic writes, “I’m confident the phrases ‘red Impala, two lanes left’ and ‘green Civic, three lanes left’ have never conveyed such imminent peril.” These scenes are made all the more effective by the level of detail described above. The more real it looks, the more real it feels. By mixing action choreography and detail, Sicario proudly occupies the top tier of what action movies can be, especially for fans who value authenticity.
Sicario joins Traffic (also with Benicio Del Toro) as one of the best films ever made about the drug war. It uses emotionally relatable characters, exceptional shot and sequence construction, and a painstaking attention to detail to explore a complex, international game. Early in the film, Alejandro tells Kate, “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything you do. But in the end, it will all make sense.”
This statement reaches our ears as well, and it leads the audience into one of the best movies of 2015 so far, which is finally out on wide release this weekend. I wish we could sell tickets here on GovX. Instead, all I can say is, you should go see it.