photo I was loathe to give director Denis Villenueve another try, after I hated his 2014 film Prisoners so much (I know, many loved it, but not me). But I was encouraged by the positive buzz his latest film, Sicario, was getting and I really wanted to support a movie with a strong female lead, so I gave it a go. Everyone deserves a second chance, right?

Anyone who watches TV and is sick of seeing any of the following things in their favorite shows over and over and over, raise your hand: cops, drugs, drug busts, shootouts, drug dealers, good cops, bad cops, good cops vs bad cops, bad guys vs good guys and anything having to do with the drug war with Mexico. Ok, you can put your hands down. Now, I know you’re sick of it, but how would you like to see all that stuff in a piece of fiction actually done really well, with really great actors, an exciting story and it looks REALLY GREAT?

It’s called Sicario. And boy, is it good.

Your palms will sweat, your pulse will race and your heart will pound. It’s all stuff you’ve seen before, there’s absolutely nothing new here, but it still manages to get to you. Sicario is a movie about the drug war the U.S. is having with Mexico. Emily Blunt plays an FBI agent enlisted by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro to assist with a special task force in the escalating war against drugs at the border with Texas. You don’t need to know too much more about the plot (you wouldn’t want to know more), but more isn’t even necessary. This movie is all about the tension. The tension in Blunt’s character, the tension in the action scenes, the tension in the air. There is tension in every single moment in this film and it is fantastic.
There is a catharsis in watching a movie like this that is palpable. Yes, it’s extremely violent and graphic (be warned). But it gets your heart racing and it is exciting and energetic and expertly filmed. In addition to the action, the cinematography, by acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins and the score, by composer Johann Johannsson, both contribute to make Sicario a powerhouse cinematic experience all the way around. Deakins’ shots are so stunning, at one point I found myself truly breathless with the beauty on the screen. How that man doesn’t have an Oscar is beyond me—he’s been nominated 12 times, including the last three years for Unbroken (2015), Prisoners (2014) and Skyfall (2013). It’s a scandal.

But what really makes Sicario special is Emily Blunt. An actress who truly has proven she can do anything (comedy, musical, costume period drama, rom-com, sci-fi, action), Blunt steals the show here from two actors not known for being easily ignored, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. She carries a hard movie with genuine humanity, finding the soul where everyone else’s is crushed or non-existent. But perhaps the best compliment to her performance, and to Villenueve’s direction and Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay, is that her character could have been played by a man or a woman. At no point in the film is she marginalized as a woman or specifically played to as feminine. Blunt’s character is a character in the story, identified by characteristics, not gender. In a major Hollywood action movie with a woman as the leading player, this is not only rare, but huge.

Surprising feminism aside, Sicario is first-rate entertainment that will be well worth your time and money, assuming you don’t mind a little blood, a lot of guns and some memorable cinematic mastery that proves second chances are a wonderful thing.