CANNES, France (Reuters) - A film that Canadian director Denis Villeneuve says is meant to break "a cover of silence" about the brutality of the Mexican drug trade and the complicity of users in the violence that feeds their habits blasted its way into Cannes on Tuesday.
"Sicario", which means hitman in Latin America, is an action-packed thriller in which agents cross territorial and legal boundaries.
Emily Blunt plays FBI agent Kate who gets recruited into a high-risk CIA-led drug operation across the border.
Josh Brolin is Matt, the CIA team leader, while Benicio Del Toro, who played a conflicted cop in the 2000 narcotics-trade hit "Traffic", co-stars as a Colombian who has a role with the CIA team that does not become clear until the end.
The film, in competition for the top Palme d'Or prize, is filmed by Roger Deakins who creates a hellish Juarez, Mexico, where cartels turn the town into a war zone. A tunnel search scene with night-vision effects is a particularly superbly shot.
Villeneuve said he had been drawn to the script, in which many of the characters, except Kate, seem to be lacking any kind of moral compass, because it brought out the moral ambiguities of the war on drugs and the violence of the narcotics trade.
"As a North American I know that I share a part of the responsibility for that, and that violence is - from what I understood - under a cover of silence and I think that violence is horrible but violence under silence is more horrible," Villeneuve told a news conference.
Blunt said she had discovered after she took the role of Kate that there had been pressure to change her character to a man - a move that Villeneuve said he would not have accepted.
"I found this character quite damaged and vulnerable and she's struggling with this world of being a female cop - and certainly with the morally questionable things she's coming to experience with these guys," Blunt said.
"So you see this girl going through pretty much the worst three days of her life, she tries to maintain face for most of it so ... I didn't really think about adjusting it to make it more masculine," she said.
Brolin, who played U.S. President George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's "W.", said he'd originally turned down the part of Matt but was glad that friends had convinced him to change his mind.
He said the wisecracking cynic Matt helps to lighten the tone, so the intensely dramatic moments have greater impact.
"My job in the movie is to be as anti-profound as possible," he said.
Editing by Louise Ireland