Sicario - 4K UltraHD Blu-ray Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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Sicario - 4K UltraHD Blu-ray Review

Title: Sicario


HTS Overall Score:84


Well, times are a changing and after 9 years as the latest format, Blu-ray takes a slight leap forward in evolution (to borrow a line from “X-Men”). For our very first 4K Blu-ray review we’ve been given a pair of films from Lionsgate, with my personal favorite film of 2015 being the first one we’ll do today. Forgive the roughness of some of the video discussions and the comparisons directly to the Blu-ray, but this is a work in progress and we will be doing some tweaking and changing to these as we go along. Right now most of the 4K material being released are catalog titles and titles that have JUST been released in the last few months, so thankfully the Blu-ray is on my shelf or the review is fresh in my mind so these will come a bit easier and more natural once day and date titles start coming in.

The war on drugs has been waged long before the famed term “the war on drugs” even came into the picture. Mexico and other Latin American countries have become a hot bed for the creation and distribution of said chemicals/plants and the flow through our southern borders has spiraled out of control. We’ve seen other such movies and TV shows like “The Bridge” and even older more stylized takes on the drug trade such as Tom Clancy’s “Clear and Present Danger” depict the terror and violence these drug cartel leaders will reign down on anyone who stands in the way of their profits. Then in slides “Sicario” to the mix, sliding under pretty much all radars at the theatrical release, and leaving me with a few “yeah that was a great movie!” from personal friends to go by. I wasn’t even sure WHAT to expect when I sat down to review the film, but left with my jaw hanging on the floor wondering just WHY this film didn’t get the accolades it deserved.

“Sicario” is roughly translated as Hitman in the Mexican language, but also comes from the Latin word “Sicarius” which was used to describe Israeli zealots who underwent assassination as a means to their ends. To put it mildly, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is going to be put into EXACTLY that same position. After a kidnapping case in Phoenix Arizona unveils some times to the Juarez drug cartels, she is asked to join an interagency task force to take down a shadowy drug cartel leader somewhere deep within Mexico. Desperate to jump at the chance to take down the guy who has caused so much damage in her home, Kate joins up with mysterious government agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and heads out to “El Paso ish” only to find out that her adventure is just beginning.

Their little trip down to El Paso ACTUALLY ends up being a little trip across the border to extricate one of the cartel member’s upper echelons back into the United States. The trip naturally goes south near the end and Kate comes to realize that maybe there is more to these guys than meets the eye. Military crew, operating outside the law and filled with a few members that just seem “off” to her. Kate desperately wants to do things by the books, but every second she’s with these men she sees things that shakes her faith in the establishment and causes her to reevaluate everything she’s ever believed in.

If I sound a bit cryptic it’s most definitely on purpose. Saying anything is almost giving away plot points, as every step of the way is another step outside of the darkness for Kate, but also for the viewer as well. Director Denis Villeneuve does a superb job of keeping everything under wraps and keeping the end goal just as plain as the nose on your face, but still shrouded in mystery and intrigue. The intensity is simply visceral, as my heart was pounding out of my chest during the entire movie. Not every scene was peppered with action, but there is a sense of tenseness and a sleeping ferocity that just doesn’t go away, even when Kate and her partner, Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) are sitting at a bar drinking a beer with friends.

What makes “Sicario” so powerful is the sheer amount of grey material that it covers. Kate is a very black and white person, which is what sets up the conflicts later on in the film, but the rest of the entire operation is shrouded in grey. There is very little right, very little wrong, just areas that you can see the positives and negatives of their actions. I Even found myself partially siding with Agent Grazer and even the mysterious Alejandro (played magnificently by Benicio Del Toro) held my sympathy. I can say “hey that’s against the law!” in some spots, but I can see the need and goals they were attempting to stake out. While I can point out the simple laws of the land, their tactics certainly have as much positives to them as the negating realities. Kate is stuck in the middle of all of this, desperate to keep to the black and white path that she’s grown up with, and her journey to Mecca (so to speak) changes her in ways that she couldn’t possibly have imagined by the end of the film. It may not always be a good change, but believe me, there are definitely some changes.

The characters are really what make this drama, and they are all handled with precision and loving care. Benicio Del Toro is the standout here as the shadowy and mysterious Alejandro. There’s a million different theories about who he was and where his allegiances lie, but it’s the evolution of watching him and finding out his motives that really make the character worthwhile. He plays the role softly and simply, but so precisely that you cannot take your eyes off of him. Even when he’s seemingly making little to no facial expressions. Emily Blunt is mesmerizing as Kate. She wants so very much to believe in the rule of law, even in the face of all this gray area, but even her faith has to be shaken and broken at some point. Brolin revels in his role as Grazer, just having fun as the boss who’s in charge, with very little oversight. He never stands out, but does the role so perfectly that any less would have been a travesty. There’s a couple cool little cameos, such as Jeffrey Donovan as a shadow agent (from Burn Notice fame) as well as getting to see Shane from “The Walking Dead” even pop in as cop friend of Reggie’s.


Rated R for strong violence, grisly images, and language

4K UltraHD discs come with the new HEVC H.265 (instead of the H.264 encoding on Blu-rays) that allows for much more data stored on the same sized disc. Thankfully 4K Blu-rays are coming on much larger than normal Blu-ray discs and thus will require a new player that uses the new HDCP 2.2 specs. Sicario was captured at 3.4k resolution and then transferred to a DI where it was mastered in 4K. My assumption is that this is the master used to create the 4K Blu-ray and thus looks REALLY nice.

My 4K Samsung is an HDR to SDR TV, so it’s hard to say 100% the FULL benefits of the new HDR color spaces allowed on the new format, but this will be pretty close. The Samsung 8500 Blu-ray player is also the only Blu-ray player on the market right now so choices are pretty limited, but I did notice that I was having a strangely large amount of HDMI handshake issues between my player and the TV. I thought that something was really wrong at first, but checking other reviews and other forum members it looks like I’m not alone. With the inclusion of newer hardware comes more fun bugs that will be worked out as time goes by and firmware updates come out.

The first thing I noticed in the comparison was that the colors just looks RICHER. There was a depth and intensity to them that just pops more than the Blu-ray that I A/Bd. Thankfully the studios are putting the Blu-ray in with the 4K disc as well, much like the Blu-ray/DVD combo packs that have been put out for the last decade (ish). Facial features are more readily noticeable and you can start to see little pock marks and facial scars that weren’t visible on the Blu-ray. The same goes for the dusty terrain of Mexico and Texas as well. Rocks look better refined, and a higher level of contrast allows for sharping imaging at times. Black levels are just a bit inkier and seem to be less prone to crush, even though there are some REALLY dark moments near the end in the tunnels that showed minor crush on the Blu.

Is the 4K Blu-ray light years ahead of the Blu-ray? I would say no at this point. It's a good evolution to Blu-ray and should be thought of in that sense. This is not the spectacular leap that DVD to Blu-ray or VHS to DVD was, but more an evolution of the already established Blu-ray market. Things are sharper, cleaner, prettier, and on a Projector make it look oh so much better the Blu-ray "regular" format.

The reasoning for dropping from a 4.5/5 on the Blu-ray to the 4/5 on the 4K UltraHD is the fact that it doesn’t look AS good as some of the shinier discs like “Exodus Gods and Kings” or “The Martian” that I was able to preview. As mentioned, “Sicario” was taken at 3.4K cameras and then upscaled to a 4K DI, and that upscaling leaves us with a little bit of the feeling that we’re not getting the full picture. For full disclosure pretty much ALL 4K Blu-rays out so far have this sourcing issue. Very few films have been captured with a full 4K resolution scan, or are using Digital cameras that don’t fully capture 4K resolution just yet. As a result I’m giving Sicario a good rating, but allowing for bigger and better films to fill those roles of 4.5 and 5 ratings.

Intense and visceral, “Sicario” has a stunning Dolby Atmos track (with a 7.1 TrueHD core for those of you without Atmos equipment) that just doesn’t let up from beginning to end (same for both the 4K and the Blu-ray disc). Dialog is strong and clear, without any abnormalities in the mix and the sheer ambiance factor of the track is off the charts. There was such a realistic sound to the film and a wonderful mixing of the mains with the overheads that you know you were right there in the middle of the firefights. Each tone, each gunshot, each footstep was distinct and razor sharp with a texture that was unique to each situation. The surrounds and overheads were in constant use as the Mexican gunfights blasted all around, or the roaring of a black SUV tore past their location. Even the simple sounds such as a pebble rattling down the hill after a Delta Force soldier knocks it off is perfectly distinct and directionally recognizable. LFE is guttural and earth shaking, as it adds power and impact to the M4 carbine rifles as well as some great effects with the vehicles. Simply superb from beginning to end.


• Stepping Into Darkness: The Visual Design of Sicario
• Blunt, Brolin and Benicio: Portraying the Characters of Sicario
• A Pulse from the Desert: The Score of Sicario
• Battle Zone: The Origins of Sicario


Movies like “Sicario” don’t come about very often, and when they do it’s something that serious movie goers should treasure. Especially in today’s fluff riddled movie environment. Besides a few cheesy lines of dialog, “Sicario” weaves an intricate, but completely plausible narrative that manages to keep the viewer AND the main character in the dark equally as well. Twists and turns keep the waters roiling with intrigue and the finale is enough to leave you feeling like you were gut punched, but also nodding enthusiastically at the seeming necessity of the situation. The Tech specs for the film are nothing short of astounding, and if it were not for just an adequate amount of special features, this disc would be just about perfect. In fact, the Blu-ray has all of the special features, while the 4K Ultra HD disc is pretty much bare bones. For this reason I'm rating the extras a full star lower than the Blu-ray review since they are just ported on the Blu-ray itself and the 4K disc is just stuck in there with nothing. You still get the same extras, but the 4k edition is what we're reviewing rather than the Blu-ray. Still, it was one of my favorite movies of the year and the incredible video and mind blowing audio create a near perfect experience in my humble opinion. Definitely a must watch film.

Additional Information:

Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Directed by: Dennis Villeneuve
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English Dolby Atmos (TrueHD 7.1 Core), English DD 2.0, Spanish DD 5.1
Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Runtime: 121 minutes
4K Blu-ray Release Date: January 5th 2016

Buy Sicario On 4K Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Must Watch

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