In Mexico, SICARIO means hitman. In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent [Emily Blunt] is enlisted by an elite government task force official [Josh Brolin] to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past [Benicio Del Toro], the team sets out on a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.
"Listen, nothing will make sense to your American ears. And you will doubt everything that we do. But, in the end, you will understand."
After a tragic-but-successful raid on a cartel drug den (also the site of a mass murder), FBI Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is invited to join a multi-agency task force that's going to target cartel boss, Manuel Diaz. This is Kate's chance to go after the real bad guys when she unable to clean up the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a sarcastic cowboy who's mum on his exact employer, oversees the task force, which heads down to Mexico to extradite and interrogate Diaz's brother in hopes of disrupting Diaz's drug shipments to such a degree that Diaz himself will be called back to Mexico to meet an even bigger boss.
Kate also meets a mysterious man named Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who may have his own mission separate from the task force. In fact, the more time Kate spends on the task force, the less she's sure about its true intentions. These men operate outside the law and will test Kate's sense of right and wrong. Ultimately, when embedded in a force of men who believe the end justifies the means, we wonder if Kate will have to become a monster in order to fight monsters.
How far would you fall to do good? The essential question of a film that thrusts a by-the-book woman into a thriller where the "good guys" play by "villain" rules. Can we have a moral high ground? Should we even want one?
'Sicario' treads into dark, grey waters to explore big questions and rich thematics. From an academic standpoint, this movie delivers in every department. It boasts complex and mysterious characters, each representing a different side of the film's thematic argument. Lush imagery from living legend Roger Deakins is gritty and grounded, yet painterly and poetic. And Jóhann Jóhannsson's driving music pulls audiences to the edge of their seats. To put it another way, Denis Villeneuve, working from a script by Tyler Sheridan, has put together one hell of a gripping thriller. A movie that demands its audience pay attention and implores us all to discuss the horrific US / Mexico cartel wars. It is a movie that does not preach, but rather drops us into a world and asks us to empathize with many points of view.
After the 2013 film, 'Prisoners', it's fair to say I will sprint to see any movie directed by Denis Villeneuve. He has wonderful taste in scripts and, thanks to an incredibly sure hand, only elevates what's already on the page. I don't know how far his career will go, but for me, his sense of tone and the way he (and his teams) paint images are incredible. He could be one of the greats.
I've watched 'Sicario' three times now over the last few days, which has led me to one conclusion and one question. First, I've concluded that this movie gets better with each viewing. More details rise to the surface (for example, the motif of using bridges and other borders in almost every shot) and the whole experience becomes more tense even though I know what's coming next.
For my question, I wonder if 'Sicario' would have been better as a limited series. As I've said, the characters are complex, but sometimes I wonder if "mystery" gives way to lack of clarity, or if the film's climax could be a little more emotionally satisfying if we had known one particular character more. That said, this is a movie where there are no satisfying answers, where there is no Hollywood ending, so perhaps a certain distance from the characters, a coolness at times, is the point. I'm not sure, but I do know the characters themselves are so fascinating I would have liked to see a longer version of this story where I could have gotten to know each one more. Think of it like 'Saving Private Ryan' vs. 'Band of Brothers'; in the latter, there is simply more time to explore and deepen personal connections. Another example: I find 'Prisoners', one of my all-time favorites, to be equally complex, but better at connecting the audience to its characters and evoking a sense of mystery.
Either way, if you like gritty thrillers, complex morals, and strong characters, I highly recommend checking out 'Sicario' if you have not already seen it.
The Blu-ray Vital Disc Stats
'Sicario' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment as part of a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack. One Blu-ray and DVD are housed inside a standard blue case along with instructions for Digital HD redemption. This release is Region A locked. Pre-menu trailers (HD, 12:40) include 'The Last Witch Hunter', Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2', 'Heist', 'Mississippi Grind', 'The Hurt Locker', and an ad for the Tribeca Shortlist streaming service.
'Sicario' explodes onto Blu-ray with an excellent, reference quality high definition video presentation that is encoded in AVC MPEG-4 and framed in the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
Lensed by the incredibly talented Roger Deakins, 'Sicario' is a visual treat from start to finish. Shot on location in New Mexico and Mexico City (standing in for Arizona and El Paso / Juarez), the imagery has three different settings. American locations are burnt and brown and monotone. Mexican locations take that color pallet and add more saturated colors. Finally, we have the night itself. Much like the characters' journeys, the film descends into darkness for its riveting climax, which offers show-stopping black levels (my favorite shots include vehicles driving along empty highways with headlights as the sole light source). Color reproduction is painterly at times, while perceived resolution is endless, particularly in wide exterior shots with clouds as well as in closeups of sweaty skin pores. Skintones, themselves, are warm, but authentic for the environment.
In terms of flaws, I saw two instances of banding (one on a studio logo, one on a flashlight late in the film) and the night-vision camera source material lacks the resolution of the production's other camera sources. However, these blink-and-you-miss-them issues don't warrant a full half-star drop in the video score.
Overall, 'Sicario' looks fantastic on Blu-ray, propelling audiences through sun-burnt landscapes until will arrive in full darkness. After seeing this HD version, I can't wait to revisit the film in Ultra High Definition.
'Sicario' shoots its way onto Blu-ray with a pulse-pounding Dolby Atmos track that is also Dolby TrueHD compatible for those who have not yet upgraded. For this review, I am using a Denon AVR-X6200W nine-channel AV Receiver, on loan from Denon, and Marantz MM7205 two-channel amp to process and power a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos configuration.
This is a sound mix that knows when to bring volume, and when to evoke silence because these moments are directly tied to the story's use of tension and release. It offers strong dynamics, consistently clear dialog, and one of my favorite musical scores from 2015. The score, along with the way the camera moves, evokes so much imposing dread it almost feels like a character in and off itself. Sound effect object panning is strong during action sequences -- revving motors, breaking glass, and gun fire pop with precision and clarity. LFE levels are generally strong (especially in the film's opening sequence). In comparing the TrueHD core to its Atmos evolution, the Dolby Atmos version, which lifts orchestral elements and effects like helicopter rotors up into elevation speakers to help with immersion, is of the mid to moderately-aggressive variety, and serves this story wonderfully.
Other soundtrack options include Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Dolby Digital Optimized for Late-Night Viewing, and English Descriptive Audio. Subtitle options include English, Spanish, and English SDH.
All of this movie's bonus materials appear to be HD Exclusives.
'Sicario' is a riveting action thriller that weaves strong performances, a tight script, and a perfect sense of tone, all while tackling big questions about impossible world problems. For me, though the film gets better with each viewing, I wish I found myself a little more emotionally engaged with the characters (as I did with one of my all-time favorites, 'Prisoners').
As a Blu-ray, 'Sicario' kicks off 2016 with a bang, setting a high bar for its excellent video presentation, strong Dolby Atmos surround mix, and a solid-but-light set of bonus materials. This Blu-ray comes highly recommended.