This film grabs you by the scruff of the neck from the opening scenes, and does not let go. Do not expect to follow the action in every scene, or even at the end to have reached closure as to who the heroes and the villains are. This is a searing depiction of the hell created by a voracious market for obscenely profitable drugs, and the effect it has on an otherwise poverty stricken community.
In a drought ravaged Nevada landscape we watch a hit squad target a house. Using a troop carrier as a battering ram, they break down a wall. The house begins to give up its secrets, plastic wrapped body after body emerging from behind freshly plastered walls.
Emily Blunt plays a FBI agent, persuaded by the carnage she has just seen to join a "black" task force which will go to Mexico to help wipe out the cartel responsible for the murders.
Bodies, some missing a head or a limb, hang from a Mexican freeway as a threat to those who might be thinking of resisting or informing. And the longer the plot develops, the less we know who to trust.
Some law enforcement people, having suffered dreadful reprisals for any success they might have had, are motivated as much by revenge as by justice. Others seem to feel that there is an acceptable level of inevitable corruption, and that their job is to go along with that, but to keep it within limits. And throughout all the frenetic activity, there is the sense that any small victory will only be temporary. The problem is larger than any attempted solution.
This is a tough, tense adrenalin-filled movie, where violence and betrayal lurk round every corner.
It is at times slowly brooding, at times grotesquely violent – an action movie without the synthetic moral certainties which form the rationale of many such movies.
Denis Villeneuve, the producer/director, is Canadian, which may account for his moral distance. The plot is unrelenting, the cinematography superb, and the story-telling deliberately ambiguous.
It is a dirty, dark universe we enter.
Blunt is extraordinary – a strong woman almost broken by the evil around her, a clever, able woman feeling foolish and naïve because of the multi-layered complexities she encounters.
This is a film which needs to be seen several times to appreciate its depths. Not least of these is the music – rarely has a score leapt out of the screen so compellingly, or added menace and tension so convincingly.