I haven’t seen such a compelling cartel story since Traffic, the mini-series. It doesn’t have quite the scope or breadth of perspective, but it manages the same unflinching look at the situation and those tangled up with it. In this case, it is primarily from the law enforcement side, though the reach of the plot is greater.

We get to see the situation and learn about the world through Emily Blunt’s (Into the Woods) police character. Her brave naivete serves as grist for exposing the realities and, frankly, dashing any hopes you may have still harbored about how things work. This doesn’t even try to pretend to be a happy-ending kind of movie.

Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice) and Benicio Del Toro (Inherent Vice , Traffic) provide the other main perspective as her guides. They come onto the scene with a bit of mystery, which the rest of the movie slowly unravels. I think the final revelations were intended to make a larger impact than they did for me, but that didn’t make them less chilling.

Victor Garber (Self/less) and Daniel Kaluuya (Kick-Ass 2) provide smaller support roles, but neither really gets to have any kind of arc. They serve their purpose in relation to Blunt, but that’s about it.

The movie drives forward inexorably from its first moments. Honestly, the opening scene is probably one of the best in the movie. That is a good thing as you do get hooked quickly. However, it was never really topped nor resolved to my mind. That was probably part of the point, but it left me feeling a little hanging in the wind and unsatisfied, despite a solid ride and suspenseful directing by Villeneuve (Prisoners) of Sheridan’s first big script.

This isn’t a film you are going to sit down with and work through a bowl of popcorn; it is just a little too tense for pure entertainment. However, it is very well done and worth the watch when you’re in a mood that will sustain the message and events. All the pieces in the production are firing on all cylinders.

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