“Sicario” addresses relevant issue of drug war

For centuries in Europe, warfare was carried out in an organized manner. Both sides would meet on the field of battle and when one side had clearly won, the losing commander would turn his sword over to the victor.

These rules of warfare changed in North America when American colonists began utilizing guerilla tactics against the British invaders. This began a long and complicated history of warfare in North America. Since then, The United States has gone through a civil war, two world wars, overseas conflicts and a war on terror.

But the war on drugs is different.

For years, the United States has fought an invisible foe in an effort to crush the import of drugs. It is this conflict that “Sicario” puts us in the middle of.

After a raid on a drug trafficker’s house takes a dark turn, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited to join an interagency task force by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). On the way to an operation, she meets the mysterious op advisor, Alejandro (Benicio del Toro). The two men take Macer along for what proves to be a dark journey.

Macer comes from a world of relatively black and white morality. She follows protocol and plays by the rules. But her new partners work in shades of gray, something she struggles with.

By contrast, the film itself is incredibly vibrant. “Sicario” is shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins who is best known for “No Country For Old Men,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Skyfall,” among many others. His camera shows a great deal, from the drab, fluorescent glow of a briefing room, to a glowing sunset as a silhouetted ops team descends into hell.

Likewise, director Denis Villeneuve does a fantastic job of shepherding the film. Coming off of the excellent “Prisoners” as well as “Enemy,” Villeneuve’s steady hand turns “Sicario” from a potential commonplace-level crime film into something much more robust.

One of the best parts of the film is del Toro. His Alejandro speaks cryptically, letting Macer know that what she hears will not make sense to her “American ears” and that she is not a wolf in what has become a land of wolves. Even as the world around him changes, Alejandro does not. Del Toro manages to give one of the most powerful performances in the film.

Another powerful piece of the film is the world that it is set in. Everything seems like it has a story. From showing Graver’s flip flops in a meeting, to the way Alejandro folds up his sport coat before an operation, as well as the 10 gallon hat-wearing Texas rangers, characters are given the sense that they belong and that they have purpose. It is a subtle thing but a detail that “Sicario” pulls off incredibly well.

It is true that the drug war is complicated. It is not a black and white conflict, and “Sicario” does its best to show this. With fantastic performances, both in front of and behind the camera, “Sicario” is most certainly one of the best films of 2015.