A rare film that adds up to much more than the sum of its parts, this works as both a dramatic character study and a tense thriller. The title is Mexican slang for "hitman". And with fierce direction, razor-sharp writing and breathtakingly layered performances, this is one of the most involving, thrilling movies of the year. It also has something urgent to say about the political world we live in.
Kate (Emily Blunt) is the leader of an FBI unit in Phoenix, and is taken aback when offbeat Homeland Security agent Matt (Josh Brolin) asks her to join his team tracking a Mexican drug cartel kingpin. She brings her partner (Daniel Kaluuya) along, and they struggle to make sense of their new mission, especially the shady operative Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) who's working alongside them. The question is which organisation is actually running this operation, and what the real goal is. Clearly international laws are being bent at every step, and Kate is worried that she might also be compromising her moral and ethical principles. Meanwhile over the border, a local cop (Maximiliano Hernandez) is involved in activities that may cause trouble for his family and community.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) keeps this story tightly under control, taking the audience along on Kate's odyssey into the dark side of international law enforcement, which has little regard for the law. Blunt brings a remarkable authenticity to her role as a steely, smart leader who is always on-edge, trying to find a way through an unpredictable situation. As she quietly reveals Kate's thought processes, the audience is able to identify with her at every step. Which makes every scene both riveting and emotionally wrenching. Opposite her, both Brolin and Del Toro are on top form, infusing the film with quirky details, black humour and challenging ideas. There's also an astonishing role for Jon Bernthal as a cowboy who flirts with Kate, and then some.
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