Sicario ★★★★★

Denis Villeneuve is a master of intensity.

I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I haven't watched a film as intense and almost suffocatingly thrilling as this since Incendies. Before that it was Polytechnique. And before that it was Prisoners.

It's not so much that there's a pattern emerging here, more that Villeneuve is that rare filmmaker who is able to create stifling tension in his films with very simply laid out scenes. Sicario starts with a very simple raid on a house, the kind of thing that we've seen a million times in films before, I'm sure. But for some reason it's oppressive. The heat. The nerves of the SWAT team. The unpredictability of what's around the corner. What they discover in the walls.

He escalates things slowly and methodically with no gimmicks and with pure, unfiltered cinematic logic. His films are not complicated yet he's a filmmaker who I perceive to be one who is always destined to be just outside of the Hollywood A list. His films are not uncommercial or anything, but there's an unshowy rhythm and complete commitment to their storylines and methods that will perhaps always stop them from being outright 'crowd pleasers'.

That's perhaps the reason why he's such a thrilling choice for the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. He's a director who could easily end up with a film which will receive the same lukewarm box office and critical reception that the original did on its release, simply because he won't kow-tow to what's 'expected' of him in following up one of the most iconic science fiction movies of all time.

He always has a trick has a trick up his sleeve that he juggles away with on the verges of his films too. With Sicario, he fogs moral judgement for his audience so much that you almost end up choking as much as Emily Blunt ends up doing. One minute you find yourself in full agreement with what methods are being use to try and hunt down the 'jefe' of a major Mexican drugs cartel, the next you're appalled. By the end you're appalled and confused and yet left wondering if there really is any other method that can be used and, furthermore, if there even was any point in taking such drastic measures in the first place.

It helps that he has clearly worked so hard with Blunt in making sure she's as in the dark as we are as to what's going on and just exactly what plans Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro have in place. She still doesn't know exactly what's happened at the end. It casts a pall over her final scenes with del Toro, which in themselves are as strong as anything in this film. A mixture of respect, fear, repulsion and moral ambiguity make for perhaps Villeneuve's most shocking finale yet - and that's quite some achievement considering what he's done to Jake Gyllenhaal in two of his films.

He also possesses the ability to completely flesh out characters through initial subtle movements and then brutal shifts. The del Toro we first meet is quiet, unassuming and a bit elusive. But that all changes the moment he walks into a room to interrogate a suspect. The look on the guy's face is the precise moment we know that del Toro is probably someone who you will never, ever want to spill the pint of.

Villeneuve always completely commits to characters and he never shirks anything. Yet in del Toro, delivering arguably the best performance of a career that has touched brilliance far too infrequently for an actor of his ability, he has perhaps his most complete human creation yet. I've commented before how Villeneuve always somehow places peace in his violence. The violence here is far more bracing and sudden yet one of the men delivering it is exactly as calm in his nature. He is the human embodiment of one of the very best qualities of Villeneuve's films. The dinner table scene is quite, quite incredible.

Also, I've never seen someone tortured in a film by having a finger shoved forcefully into their ear? Should I have laughed at that? Fuck it, the deed is done.

Brolin is all smartarse, laidback, gum chewing confidence and practically never puts a foot wrong with any of his performances these days. Blunt is utterly sublime in the lead, teetering between emotional and physical strength and weakness with all the confidence of someone who has been headlining movies for 20 years. She will surely do so for at least that amount of time. She has earned it, she deserves it, and I want to see her leading more films as she interests and delights me as an actor.

I wanted to save the last word for the soundtrack here because I really do think that Jóhann Jóhannsson's threatening score is the final piece in the jigsaw of a fantastic movie. It's just a constant, menacing beating of drums in the background that is just always banging around in your head and putting you on edge in scenes or ahead of scenes - it's at its best when shadowing the stunning traffic jam shoot-out scene.

As ever with 5 star films, I was going to give this 4.5 stars and then thought of no reason why I shouldn't give it 5 stars. Sicario is every bit the film I hoped it would be and, as is always the case with Villeneuve, lots more besides.

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