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Movie Review: 'Sicario'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Sicario is a violent action thriller that's nearly as inscrutable as its title.

As a title card tell us at the top, sicario is Spanish for "hitman."  As for the reason for borrowing this Mexican slang term for the film's title, it shall remain unspecified as a way of staying in the spoiler-free zone.

Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an idealistic, by-the-book FBI agent and kidnap-response specialist chosen, willy-nilly, and commanded to join a covert anti-drug-cartel task force operating on the U.S.-Mexican border – between Juarez and El Paso, cities divided by a fence.

Leading the force are two close-mouthed "Department of Defense advisors," who are actually CIA agent Matt Graver, played by Josh Brolin, and Alejandro, the Colombian lawyer played by Benicio Del Toro, whose presence reminds us of Traffic.

Their viewpoint: that their female colleague is naïve.

Their mission: to track down and eliminate the Mexican drug kingpin in charge.

The motivations, intentions, accomplishments, loyalties, and methods of the two ops running the operation are murky when they arrive on the scene and, as we continue to see them through the vigilant but nervous and confused eyes of Kate, who is the film's conscience, remain that way most of the way.

It is her interior journey, as she and her colleagues literally disappear underground in search of their quarry, that we follow from moment to moment.

And the already blurred borders between legal and illegal, ethical and unethical, right and wrong, hero and villain, and just and unjust get even blurrier.

For Kate and for us.

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve tends to make intense films (Prisoners, Incendies, Enemy) and Sicario is no exception.

But they can be frustratingly head-scratching as well, a score on which Sicario similarly qualifies.

The screenplay by a first-timer, actor Taylor Sheridan, has its limitations, but it leaves a strong impression as a portrait of futility.  But it stops rather than ends, and leaves us with far more questions than answers.

As she did last year in Edge of Tomorrow, Blunt proves to be a commanding and expressive action heroine, something we don't see that often, and perhaps it's because of the female protagonist that Sicario brings to mind The Silence of the Lambs and Zero Dark Thirty.

And Brolin and Del Toro complement her effectively with their shadowy presence and meaningful glances.

So we'll track down 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the bleak and ambiguous but gritty and suspenseful drug-trafficking thriller, Sicario, an action flick that weighs in as a portrait of what it sees as the unwinnable War on Drugs.

(2½ stars out of 4)


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