As we're told in an opening title card, Sicario means "hitman" in Mexico. It could also mean (according to me) "somewhat overrated movie."
Emily Blunt stars an FBI agent who as lead of a hostage rescue team leads a raid on a drug den in Arizona and after narrowly escaping death discovers the walls are filled with bodies of victims of the cartels. (While it's a striking image, it doesn't make much sense. Why stash rotting corpses in your walls when there's plenty of desert out the back door to bury them?) Recruited to a join a DEA task force run by Josh Brolin with his mysterious sidekick Benicio del Toro, she rapidly suspects this is a CIA operation (which would be illegal on US soil) and is sucked into the violence of life fighting the brutal cartels.
There was a lot of praise for Sicario upon its release, but I attribute that to director Denis Villeneuve's constant simmering tone of dread. But like his previous film, Prisoners, that dread is in service to a script that is frustratingly thin under the gloom; it's as if playing the scenes slowly - bordering on monotonously - lends the impression of depth where little exists. It's not that the movie isn't great looking - with Roger Deakins' Oscar-nominated cinematography, how couldn't it? - with well-staged scenes and strong performances, it's just not as profound as the tone conveys, a problem with Prisoners as well.
Taylor Sheridan's script fancies itself a meditation on how far should good people go to fight truly evil people, but undermines the complexity by making del Toro's motivations so obvious that their attempts to cloud him with mystery insulting and having Blunt's by-the-book Girl Scout persona undermine her supposed kick-ass chick veneer by having her come off as naive more than idealistic. As she does one dumb thing after another against the advice of people whom she should be listening to, you start to wonder if dumb luck has kept her alive this long. Some struggle with her being seduced by the efficacy of drifting into the gray ethical terrain would've done Sicario a lot of good.
On the AV front, the transfer is nice and sharp with even the darkest scenes clear without banding. (Which is why properly-encoded physical discs will always trump streaming.) I don't have the speakers to judge the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but on an old 5.1 system the low-end menace of Jóhann Jóhannsson Oscar-nominated score (it was also nommed for Sound Editing) came through to amp Villeneuve's dread.
Extras are thin with a quartet of brief features discussing the look of the film, the stars, the score and the background of the cartel wars which inspired the screenplay. The signature border crossing shootout (it's in the trailer, so no spoiler) required building a replica of that stretch of road because using the actual crossing was impossible, but while we see blue screen walls off in the distance which would be replaced by CGI extensions, they never go into how that was done. There is no commentary, which may've been because Villeneuve is from Quebec and has an accent, but why not have scripter Sheridan talk?
Not as good as the hype and frustrating in it dumb bunny lead, Sicario is one of those movies that make people leery of films with tons or critics' pull quotes on the poster. It's still worth a watch as long as you temper your expectations going in and don't mind being a bit annoyed the next day.
Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (It is currently on Amazon Prime.)
If you watch(ed) the movie, check out this analysis of the border crossing scene which also, surprisingly, calls out the Villeneuve's dragging out of things.
This video condenses most of the info bits from the extras in case you watch it on TV instead of renting/buying the BD. BTW, the rental versions don't include extras, only the retail copies.