Sicario (which we’re told in the film’s opening credits means hitman in Mexico) follows idealistic FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) as she makes a gruesome discovery while investigating a kidnapping case. Subsequently, Kate is recruited into a US government task force to take on a drug cartel operating over the US-Mexican border. What sounds like a formulaic setup gives way to a film that is anything but.

The script (by screenwriter Taylor Sheridan) brilliantly presents the audience with a very complex setup that unravels as Kate uncovers the rather unsettling web of deceit and corruption. The allegiance and agenda of the task force, led by Josh Brolin and advised by a shady Benicio Del Toro, is constantly in question, leading to some very tense scenes. The action may be a slow boil, but its intensity never relents — this is edge-of-the-seat stuff from start to finish.

The acting all around is excellent. Emily Brunt is the perfect balance of confidence and fragility, delivering an emotional performance that allows the audience to totally empathize with her. Josh Brolin is as great as he always is, and Del Toro’s performance could well be the best he’s ever given.  Through all the shocking events these characters go through, there’s never any doubt that these are real people being portrayed, both heroic and flawed, making difficult and questionable decisions.

The real standout here though is the artistry and mastery in which the film is presented. This is easily director Denis Villeneuve’s best film yet, which is no mean feat given that his previous work includes Incendies and Prisoners. The score, too, is great, providing an unsettling tone that heightens the tension even further. 

The highest accolade (and given that this review is nothing but gushing praise, this should mean something) has to go to Roger Deakins’ cinematography. This film may be bleak and rather violent, but it’s also incredibly beautiful. From the stark, clinical framing of landscapes and buildings to the personal moments of downtime away from the action, every shot is perfect.

Sicario gets my highest recommendation. Easily one of the best films of the year so far, and a strong contender as we head into the awards season.

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