For much of its two-hour running time, Sicario looks like one of the very best films of the year. The subject matter (the interagency “war on drugs” in Juárez/El Paso) is topical and grim, but director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners) and first-time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan give an account of it that is uncommonly rich in character and ferociously alert to moral complexities.
Emily Blunt plays a tightly wound FBI agent who is enlisted to work with a task force led by an amiably gonzo government “contractor” (Josh Brolin, in full picaresque mode). That puts her alongside the shady-looking Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a task-force participant whose motives and allegiances are one of the story’s more convoluted puzzles.
Ace cinematographer Roger Deakins does great work with the story’s terrain, the desert topography as well as the social landscape. And Jóhann Johannsson’s growling electronic score is integral at every level.
Sheridan’s script is at its best when it’s setting up the characters’ moral quandaries, but the dramatic overload in the later portions seems to leave the characters stranded somewhere between moral insight and emotional closure.