Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

In an interesting coincidence, I chose to watch Sicario on the same day that I saw news about Denis Villeneuve starting work on a series of Dune films. That news meant nothing to me when I saw it, because I had no idea who Denis Villeneuve was.

I should have, of course, because I’ve seen and enjoyed Arrival. I also should have because, well, it’s sort of my business to know. And at one time, say 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, I would have been all up to date on directors and studios and projects.

I’m a little rusty these days, though, having spent a good deal of recent months under various rocks, some quite pleasant, others not so pleasant.

Most of the rocks that Sicario‘s characters hide under are of the not-so-pleasant variety.

When Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate Macer spearheads a drug bust in Arizona, she draws the attention of a team of government spooks and other proxies doing deep operations in the, ahem, war on/with/by/for drugs.

It soon becomes apparent that this is no by-the-book assignment, even though Agent Macer “volunteered”… and she is none too pleased as it becomes apparent (to her, anyway, though it’s obvious to us) that she’s a mere pawn in some bigger, scarier play. (The soundtrack gives this point away early on, if you pay attention to such things, so that’s no spoiler.)

Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, both of whom have played some series heavies in the past, again perform the heavy lifting amongst the various “white hats” doing their part to make self-indulgent and naive Americans safer (or at lest more sheltered). Both are quite effective in their roles, as is Blunt in her coming-of-the-age-of-cynicism performance as Kate. Villeneuve makes barely a false step in his taut direction of a fairly airtight script.

As you might have guessed from the qualifiers I employed in that last sentence, I could quibble with some of the production team’s choices–but I won’t, simply because this is the kind of cinema that used to be quite common and sought-after in America: smart, tense, efficient, to the point. Free of unnecessary flash and filmmaking bravado. Full of confidence in the intelligence of its audience. Talking about important things.

In a way, you might think of Sicario as Apocalypse 2015! or something like that. Never get off the boat, as Captain Willard was advised nearly 40 years ago, unless you’re willing to go all the way. And if you’re not… well, maybe you should move some place kinder and gentler, someplace like Anacortes–a place as unlike El Paso as you can get. Kate gets similar advice here.

This is a pretty heavy film, suitable for nights when you need an intense distraction and don’t feel particularly like laughing or getting weepy. If that’s how you feel tonight, this might be a good pick for you. It was for me.

Sicario is included with Amazon Prime and is available to rent on YouTube. It’s also available on DVD through Netflix.

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