An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.
"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'.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Sicario' slips into 4K UHD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment as part of an Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack. One Ultra HD and one Blu-ray are housed inside a standard black case along with instructions for Digital HD redemption. Ultra HD Blu-rays are Region Free, but the included Blu-ray appears to be Region A locked (it's likely the exact same disc from the initial January 2016 release). One difference to note, between the discs, is that the Ultra HD Blu-ray does not appear to have Resume functionality, while the Blu-ray does.
'Sicario' makes the leap to Ultra High-Defintion with a vivid and dynamic HEVC encode framed in the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. And while it's not perfect in ways I'll describe in a moment, this disc is officially my go-to movie to show people WHY high dynamic range is much more important than resolution.
In revisiting 'Sicario' in 2160p, I was struck by three key realizations. First, the original Blu-ray is and was quite good, visually, but not five-stars good. There are actually hints of banding here and there. So I'm dropping that down to 4.5 stars. Second, if you haven't seen a demonstration of A-to-B or side-by-side comparisons of HDR and SDR material, pick up 'Sicario' in Ultra HD Blu-ray for this purpose. The amount of color and detail revealed in the highlights is nothing short of extraordinary. More on this in a moment. And third, the tradeoff to all this new color and detail comes in the film's largely night-set third act where there is some loss in shadow detail.
On the bright side of things (pun intended), 'Sicario' remains a striking visual experience courtesy of Roger Deakins' stunning cinematography. It takes place in a burnt world of vast deserts, urban war zones, and suburban drug dens that evoke 'Breaking Bad' in a grittier way. Add in HDR10 and Wider Color Gamut, and 'Sicario' transforms into UHD eye candy thanks to a combination of elevated color saturation and oodles of details revealed in once blown out bright areas. Comparing the Blu-ray to the Ultra HD Blu-ray is no contest -- in HD SDR Rec 709, the skies are white with little-to-no cloud detail; in UHD HDR WCG, the skies are blue and rich with cloud textures. This improvement, dramatic enough to almost feel like 3D at times, carries over to almost every scene in the movie...
Save for the night sequences that make up a significant portion of the climax.
You still get more detail and color in the highlights of things like flashing lights -- everything drenched in light is clearer -- but the overall image might be too dark. The inky black levels are about the same between the Blu and UHD Blu, but this Ultra HD presentation swallows objects and characters in ways the Blu-ray does not. In a perfectly dark room, it's less apparent, but still I was about give this movie 4.5 stars until the darker sequences, and now that wouldn't be right.
Still, despite a little more black crush, I'd argue 'Sicario' makes for an outstanding Ultra HD Blu-ray at times, and easily improves upon an already impressive HD release.
'Sicario' features the exact same Dolby Atmos sound mix that was previously featured on the Blu-ray release. Here's what I wrote for that:
'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.
'Sicario' debuts in Ultra High Definition with no new bonus materials. What supplements you will find are all on the Blu-ray Disc and, as previoiusly desribed, all appear to be HD Exclusives (see below).
'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 an Ultra HD Blu-ray, 'Sicario' improves upon an already excellent video presentation in terms of color and highlight detail, but may be a little too contrasty in nighttime sequences. The original Blu-ray's strong Dolby Atmos surround mix, and solid-but-light set of bonus materials carry over. This is definitely the way I'm going to be watching Sicario from now on. Highly Recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.