From its explosive premiere at the Cannes Film Festival to another smash North American launch last weekend at Toronto, director Denis Villeneuve’s new thriller Sicario is simply sensational stuff.

It should be no surprise, since this deadline-review-badge-pete-hammonddirector has previously wowed us with the Oscar nominated Foreign Language Film Incendies, as well as another intensely brooding thriller Prisoners a couple of years ago. But in addition to being exceptionally well made, Sicario, as I say in my video review (click the link above), also feels especially timely and pertinent. Set along the U.S.-Mexico border Villeneuve’s  film (with a tight, smart script by Taylor Sheridan who grew up near the area depicted here), has some of the best action scenes I have seen in a long time even though I don’t really want to describe this as an “action film”.  This movie deserves more than that label.

Emily Blunt, in another impressive performance, plays an FBI agent who volunteers to join an elite task force in order to help stamp out the emergence and increasing influence of the lethal drug cartels in the long stretch of land near the border. But almost right from the start, she realizes she is going to get more than she bargained for as an eyewitness to true human horror. That is clear from the effective opening scene in which agents raid a house laden with the deathly remains of a past cartel operation. Josh Brolin plays the footloose and cagey official in the task force who says he is there to “create chaos”.

Then there’s the consultant for the group, a mysterious and enigmatic Benicio Del Toro, who may be on the side of the law, but uses tactics and extreme measures that might be more at home with the criminals he is trying to shake out of existence. His past is part of his mystery and makes this another character for which Del Toro richly deserves an Oscar nomination.

Yes, there are similarities Sicariobetween this film and his Oscar-winning 2000 release, Traffic but I would say Sicario managed to crawl under my skin even more. With the Mexican border such a controversial topic these days, there is no question that there is an urgency here that makes this film so constantly fascinating to watch. One scene where Del Toro drops in on a family dinner of one of the most wanted crime lords is an instant classic, as chilling as anything I have seen in awhile.

But this movie is full of great set pieces, including a spectacular sequence set on a bridge where a group of SUV’s are suddenly stuck in a massive traffic jam, becoming sitting targets. It’s a car chase as exciting as those where the cars actually move. And it has been brilliantly staged by Villeneuve and shot by his 12-time Oscar- nominated genius cinematographer Roger Deakins.

The score by Johann Johannsson is also exactly on the money, adding brilliantly to the unrelenting tension on screen. Is it violent? You bet, but it also seems totally authentic and realistic. Sicario is a film that walks that gray line between good and evil, but lands somewhere in the middle raising more questions than it has time to answer. This one is a definite “go”.

Producers are Basil Iwanyk, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Edward McDonnell and Molly Smith. Black Label Media and Thunder Road Productions are the production companies for the Lionsgate release which hits select theaters in L.A.and NY today before going wide on October 2.

Do you plan to see Sicario? Let us know what you think.