It’s hard to follow up a masterpiece. After a director makes a masterpiece, everyone expects the next film to be just as great. Most of the time, the results are underwhelming. Quentin Tarantino followed up “Pulp Fiction” (1994) with “Jackie Brown” (1997), David Fincher followed up “Se7en” (1995) with “The Game” (1997), Steven Spielberg followed up “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) with “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001), and so on. Not saying these movies are bad, but they didn’t come close to the greatness of its predecessors.
In 2013, director Denis Villenueve made his U.S. debut with the crime thriller “Prisoners”. It is one of the best crime thrillers of all-time and one of the very best movies of this decade. How does Villenueve follow up his modern masterpiece? With a pulse pounding, gritty crime thriller that is easily one of the best films of 2015.
Emily Blunt stars as idealistic F.B.I agent Kate Mercer, who is in the thick of the cartel war happening between the United States and Mexico. Mercer is recruited by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to join a special task force to take down the head of the cartel along with a mysterious agent/hitman Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). As Mercer gets deeper and deeper into the mission, things aren’t what they seem to be which tests her principles as an agent and puts her life in more danger than she expected.
Villenueve knows how to create mood and tension as good as any filmmaker today. From the opening house raid up until the final frame, I was on edge. This is a slow burn of a film, but when it hits, it hits hard. Nobody is safe in this movie. You don’t know when the next person was going to die or who it was going to be. There are so many twists and turns through out this film, you can’t predict what will happen. Villenueve also does not shy away from the violence. This is not a fun movie to watch, but that’s part of the movie’s greatness. We are thrown right into this cartel war and we see all of its brutality from all sides. We get some great action shoot outs and a shocking ending. It is top notch filmmaking from Villeneuve.
Along with the great filmmaking, we get two of the year’s best performances. We’ve seen Emily Blunt in comedies like “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) and flex her action chops in “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014), but she has never done anything like this. As Mercer, Blunt digs deep and gives the best performances of her career. She kills it as the vulnerable, yet honorable agent trying to keep her morals in a time when breaking the rules is part of the plan. Blunt strips down all the glam and gives us a bare bones performance. Benicio Del Toro gives a chilling, scene stealing performance as the mysterious hitman. Much like his Oscar winning performance in 2001’s “Traffic”, Del Toro uses a lot of facial expressions to convey his emotion. He is a cold, calculated man with motives of his own. He is terrifying and hypnotic. It is Del Toro’s best performance in over a decade. Brolin is also very good, but plays his usual charming, Texas self with a bit of a darkside and is over shadowed by the other two performances.
“Sicario” is an intense, riveting film-going experience. It is filmmaking at its finest and features two great performances. This is only Villenueve’s second U.S. feature, but it is proof that he is one of the best directors working today.
MY RATING – 4/4
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