Rated 4.0

When a film works, the critical tendency is to praise the director and move outwards from there, but the palm-sweat intensity of Sicario feels more like a triumph of brilliant actors and collaborators over a gaseous auteur. Sicario was directed by Denis Villeneuve, and he brings the same heavy-handed pomposity to this story of an upright FBI agent (Emily Blunt) thrown neck first into the moral swamp of the Mexican drug war that he brought to Prisoners and Enemy. And yet even as I was frequently annoyed by the film, I still found Sicario tense and nightmarishly immersive from its opening frames. Villeneuve deserves credit for crafting some gripping sequences (a standoff at a bottlenecked border crossing is another highlight), but the film would be unimaginable without the vivid and tactile cinematography of Roger Deakins, the bruising Johann Johannsson score and the gripping performances of Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro. D.B.