Hitman in urban war zone

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario.
Benicio Del Toro in Sicario.PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS

A no-nonsense agent in a task force to track down a drug lord is the moral compass of this explosive but puzzling film

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has a knack for making emotionally wrenching and riveting films.

Incendies (2010), in French and Arabic, was a mystery drama about a pair of siblings travelling to the Middle East and uncovering devastating family secrets.

Prisoners (2010), his English language debut, was an arresting thriller that kept viewers on the edge of their seats over the fate of two abducted little girls.

This time, it is the action that is explosive.

Sicario plunges right into the middle of a raid mission which ends up literally blowing up in the faces of the team.


    SICARIO (NC16)

    121 minutes/Opens tomorrow /
    3.5/5 STARS

    The story: Kate (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent conducting raids on suspicious American properties near the Mexican border. She agrees to be part of a joint task force to track down a big-time drug lord, believing she can help to accomplish something meaningful by doing so. But she keeps getting stonewalled by her superior Matt (Josh Brolin) and she is uneasy about the presence of the taciturn Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) on the team. The word sicario means hitman in Mexico.

Villeneuve then executes the extraction of a man close to the drug lord from Juarez, Mexico, back to American soil with terse precision. There are glimpses of dead bodies strung up on the underside of bridges, Mexican forces are seen in full riot-gear get-up and the staccato of gunfire can be heard. This is an urban war zone.

In contrast to the intensity of the action, Blunt's Kate is a no-nonsense agent who keeps her emotions in check. She is also the moral compass of the scene and, as the film wades into a morass of complications, viewers look to her for direction.

Blunt's (Edge Of Tomorrow, 2014) mix of naivete and desire to do the right thing is compelling and Brolin (No Country For Old Men, 2007) is suitably condescending as someone who knows far more than he is willing to let on.

Del Toro's (Traffic, 2000) Alejandro is the intriguing wild card here.

Early on, he says ominously to Kate: "Nothing will make sense to your American ears. You will doubt what we do. But, in the end, it will make sense."

Some pieces of the puzzle do come together eventually, but be warned, there is no light at the end of this particular tunnel of darkness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Hitman in urban war zone'. Print Edition | Subscribe