I assumed Sicario would be a gritty drug-enforcement-take-down action flick, a classic good vs bad with one of the best action movie heroine’s (Emily Blunt) in the starring role. I was wrong. While there is loud gritty violence, the movie is also a taut, tense thriller, and so much more than just popcorn cinema. It’s a thoughtful, albeit bleak look at the escalating war on the Mexican Drug Cartels.
Emily Blunt stars as the film’s young and naïve FBI agent Kate Macer. After making a grisly discovery at a Cartel owned house in Arizona, Kate volunteers to join a shadowy government agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), his mysterious partner Alexjandro (Benicio Del Toro), and their taskforce to hunt the men who are “really responsible” for the atrocities. Kate is immediately whisked off to Mexico to extradite a high level Cartel member and things quickly go downhill. It soon becomes clear to Kate that she has been lied to and is in way over her head. After witnessing horrible violence committed by both sides Kate struggles to accept that doing things “by the book” may no longer be an option in the modern War on Drugs.
Directer Dennis Villenueve (Prisoners) does a terrific job at building tension and a foreboding atmosphere. The sense of dread is almost palpable. This is primarily because Kate is constantly lied to, kept in the dark, and/or treated terribly by her superiors. As a result she finds out many important truths about what the hell their taskforce is really up too simultaneously with the audience. By the middle of the film Kate is a shaken, nervous, chain smoking mess, yet still she feels compelled to see the mission to its ultimate conclusion. By the end she is desperate to justify all the horror that she has seen in order to rationalize that some good was accomplished.
Emily Blunt is excellent in her role, as is Josh Brolin as Matt Graver, the despicable yet necessary government agent tasked with fighting the Cartel. It is however Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro who steals the show. Alejandro is Matt’s mysterious partner and right hand man who scarcely speaks yet often gives gems like, “You’re asking me how a watch works, for now let’s just keep an eye on the time.” He is a tortured, dogged, yet extremely capable soldier who is determined to take down the Leaders of this Cartel. Saying anymore would reveal too much, but the movie really excels as it becomes Alejandro’s story told through Kate’s eyes, and their completely incompatible definitions of order and justice.
The movie is very good but it isn’t perfect. The movie has grand ambitions and raises many thought provoking topics, some which alone could occupy an entire other film. Topics like the U.S. water-boarding torture of foreign nationals, warring drug cartels, mass deportations, drug smuggling through U.S. tunnels, government sanctioned murder, who authorized the murderous task force, etc. are only briefly mentioned or addressed in the film. Nevertheless, the narrative gives an up close and personal look at the drug trade, its effects on those who run it, those who work in it, and those who fight to stop it.
Sicario has a lot to say but it doesn’t give any easy solutions and maybe that’s the point. How do you stop a foreign organization that supplies narcotics to approximately “20 percent” of your own citizens and is also as wealthy and organized as small governments? “You’re no Wolf, and this is the land of Wolves now,” Alejandro tells Kate and the message is clear: You’re not cut out for this, get out now while you still can. In this trade, violence is met with more ferocious violence, an eye for a head. Despite minor flaws, at its core the film is well directed, acted, and paced even if it leaves you feeling depressed after it’s all said and done. Benicio Del Toro’s performance alone is worth a look. Sicario fires on all cylinders. If it’s playing in a theater near you, go see this movie.
TLDR: Sicario is a violent, bleak, but thoughtful look at the escalating war on the Mexican Drug Cartels definitely worth your time. (4/5 Stars)