In Blunt terms, 'Sicario' is powerful, taut, and timely – a truly brilliant thriller

The 'Right Hook' and 'Picture Show' critic also reviews 'Suffragette', 'Red Army', and 'Regression'

Sicario (15A)

The high-class adult thriller, Sicario opens with a bravura action sequence in which an FBI kidnap response unit moves in on a house in Chandler, Arizona. The leader of the team, Kate Macer (the always reliable Emily Blunt), is looking for hostages but what she finds, after a chaotically tense shoot out, is rows and rows of dead bodies wrapped in plastic tarps and stacked upright in the walls of the house. In all there are 42 – and they have been murdered by the local drugs kingpin.

This sequence establishes that anything is possible in Sicario; that the leaders in the Mexican/US drugs war are prepared to do anything – to engage in any form of savagery – to maintain the upper hand. And it places us, the audience, in a position where nothing can be relied upon.

Macer is subsequently summoned to an intra-agency briefing where she is offered the job of joining a covert operation to smash the cartel responsible for these grotesque murders and she accepts the offer without knowing what she is getting in to – and how her sense of justice is going to be challenged.

Sicario is comparable to Steven Soderbergh’s sprawling war-on-drugs epic Traffic in 2000, but rather than pull the camera back to explore the global reach of this scourge as Soderbergh did, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve zooms in on one frontier: the porous border between the US and Mexico. The game plan of this new shadowy agency is to lure a big fish named Manuel Diaz by kidnapping his brother from a Juarez jail, bringing him back to the States, and interrogating him in an “enhanced” fashion.

This, as we are told, will rattle Manuel’s cage and make him screw up enough that he can be caught. The operation serves its function and much more.

Sicario plays like an accomplished Michael Mann movie; it is done with pace, power and unpredictability; it is taut and timely, a truly brilliant thriller.

Suffragette (12A)

Suffragette, which opens here next Monday, is the under dramatized story of a young mother’s involvement in the campaign to win the vote for women in England at the early part of the 20th century. Famed suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) only appears in two tight scenes in the movie which focuses on the fictionalised story of a young laundry worker – a working class mother and wife – who is educated into the issues that inspired the “Panks” as they were called.

It is a thin, fairly predictable, if handsome movie, of which the most distinguishing element is Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts, the young woman who is prepared to put her family on the line to advance the case for the vote. Her story, by the way, is set in 1912 – British women over 21 were eventually granted suffrage in 1928.

Red Army (12A)

Red Army is an intriguing documentary by Gabe Polsky about how the Russian ice hockey team was used as a propaganda weapon to highlight the merits of the Soviet system during the Cold War period. Employing some excellent 16mm film footage, it illustrates how eight and ten year olds were taken out of school and enlisted in the army to train as ice hockey players. 

One of these was the national team’s future captain, a quirky, charismatic defender called Viacheslav ‘Slava’ Fetisov and the film makes him the sometimes combative focus of the story. Fetisov joined other gifted players under the tutelage of coach Anatoli Tarasov who implemented rigorous training routines, but also worked chess and even ballet into the team’s technique. Throughout the 1970s, Tarasov’s team became virtually unbeatable, a strong, beautifully coordinated unit whose teamwork became a symbol of the power of the collective.

The golden age came to an end in 1977, however, when Tarasov was replaced by dictatorial former KGB agent Viktor Tikhonov, who forced the players to train 11 months out of the year and housed them in prisonlike barracks.

Told mostly from Fetisov’s perspective, Red Army deftly traces how he and his fellow players became pawns in a high-stakes political game that, as the fall of the Soviet Union loomed, became increasingly paranoid and repressive. 

Even if you have no interest in ice hockey, or in sport in general, you will find yourself invested in Fetisov’s story its themes of nationalism, pride loyalty and personal expression.

Regression (16)

Due to the small fortune she amassed as spunky Hermione Grainger in the eight Harry Potter movies, Emma Watson – we are reliably told – never needs to work for money again. But she is doing it anyway- and she is trying to leave her Granger persona as far behind as possible.

Her latest release is a dark psychological thriller, from the Spanish director of The Others, Alejandro Amenábar, about a detective and a psychoanalyst who discover evidence of a satanic cult while investigating the rape of a traumatised teenager.

Ethan Hawke, who has a positive history in this type of project, plays the detective with another Potter regular, David Thewlis, joining in too. 

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