I’m not a fan of hyper-violent movies, but I am a fan of great performances – and Emily Blunt gives a transcending performance here. She lifts the movie above its genre and enables it to work at a higher level, to be a bit more entertaining, to give it a touch more humanity and believability. On one level, this is another bloody and brutal drug movie, but because we see it through her eyes, this becomes something more. It’s more tense, more frightening – and probably more realistic. This must be the way the game is really played in the border towns and tunnels near and in Mexico. It’s all complex, confusing, confounding and oh so very violent. This is the story of a small US inter-agency team trying to bring down a Mexican drug cartel – and doing despicable things in the process. There are three main characters: Matt (Josh Brolin) seems to be in charge and he’s a cowboy in flip flops. He’s cynical, reckless, confident, always smiling in self-assured smugness.
The “sicario” (hitman) on the US team is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro); he’s violent, silent, inscrutable, with his own agenda. Kate (Emily Blunt) is an FBI lawyer along for the ride, to be sure the US is playing by the riles. But as she watches what actually goes down, she has no clear idea what’s going on; she knows only that every possible law is being broken – on both sides. Blunt makes Kate a kind of frightened “everyman,” — wide-eyed and naïve and nervous and shaking inside. She’s caught up with people who have no morals and who play by rules they make up as they go along. She’s in too deep to get out; we – and her – wonder how, or even if, she’ll survive. All three actors are terrific. This is a Denis Villeneuve-directed movie and just as he did with his “Prisoners,” he tells a long (two hours) gruesome story that takes you to dark places inside yourself and leaves you questioning what you’d do in the same situation. Parts are tough to watch; the whole is even tougher to forget. Once again, he trusts the cinematography to the great Roger Deakins, who makes the bleached and barren landscape a metaphor for the souls of those who struggle here. As we approach the end, Alejandro has some advice for Kate that may apply also to all of those who believe the drug war can be won legally — or by those willing to apply integrity and ethics. “You should move to a small town somewhere where they still believe in the rule of law.” Alejandro says. “This is the land of wolves now and you are not a wolf.”