For a movie fan, the weeks immediately following the Oscars can test cinema patience. After so many strong films fill Academy Award season, tolerating weaker entries in theaters can be challenging. Fortunately, some nominees that may have been overlooked when first released are now available online, on demand and on DVD.
Sicario should have been a contender for more Oscars. In a less competitive year, this intense thriller about the drug trade between the US and Mexico might have landed in the running for Best Picture. While the film was nominated for Sound Editing, Cinematography and Music, a different year might have seen it compete for Oscars for Actress (Emily Blunt), Supporting Actor (Benicio del Toro) and for Taylor Sheridan’s taut screenplay. But this was a tough year for such a thoughtful thriller to break through.
On the surface, Sicario looks like what we might expect from a film about drug traffic. The great cinematographer Roger Deakins – still an Oscar bridesmaid after 13 nominations – makes the land look dusty and the air feel hot. Yes, we are on that border where nothing seems to get in the way of how people shuttle drugs and money in both directions. And we meet all the characters we expect including devious cartel bosses, focused hit men (for which “sicario” is slang in the drug world) and well-intentioned federal agents who want to do the right thing. But any resemblance between this and other films on the topic is coincidental. From its first frame, Sicario is an original thriller that never relies on what we expect. It defines its world one moment at a time.