TL;DR – A masterful look at how to use tension to build a story in a brutal world
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Today I got to cross a film off my pile of shame that has been sitting there for quite a while. Sicario was one of those films that were made by people I have come to deeply respect in the film industry but at the time when it came out, I was not in the right head space to give it a watch. Ever since then I have been meaning to go back and give it a go if only to add to my understanding of some of these filmmaker’s work, but it sat there. Well, today that changes as we take a dive into the world, or at least one perspective of the world on the American/Mexican border.
So to set the scene, we open on a quiet town in Arizona that gets surrounded by FBI agents, it is a kidnapping taskforce led by Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya). As they breach into the house via a ram-raid they quickly subdue everyone inside, but after one of the assailant’s shots at Kate the true horror of the place is revealed when almost a hundred bodies are discovered boarded up in the walls and unbeknownst to people there were explosive booby-traps. While it the raid led to two agents being killed, it was handled by the book and it put Kate on the radar of some higher-ups including Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his associate Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). They invite Kate along to observe as part of an inter-agency taskforce as they go into Mexico to transfer a high-value prisoner back to the States for ‘questioning’ and it soon becomes apparent that as the film states “The [ethical] boundary has been moved”.
The first thing that is really clear is just how wonderful this film is put together in just about every aspect of its creation. At this point, I am beginning to believe that either Roger Deakins has made a pact with a Jinn or might just be a mutant with the ability to create beautiful sunsets because goodness there is no way any normal mortal man could find so many gorgeous backdrops to film from. There is also the way that tension is masterfully handled by Denis Villeneuve with the build-up to the bridge incident being a good example. At every point, there are these little tweaks like the patrol car disappearing that just ratchet up the tension bit by bit. All of this is helped by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score that used a falling glissando on a double bass to once again ratchet up the tension. Goodness, what a loss to the world it is that we didn’t get to see where Jóhann’s beautiful scores will go next.
The second this is just how good all the actors are at bringing this film to life. Emily Blunt has to do a lot of the heavy lifting because we see most of the film through her perspective. She is the rookie on the team which is film shorthand to allow for exposition that would not normally be there if everyone was experts. As the film goes on, she goes from this confident FBI agent to having everything about her life questioned and basically told to go find another job because she is not cut out for the shifting world. You have Benicio del Toro shifting from caring father who has lost it all to monstrous murder sometimes in the space of the same scene. Josh Brolin is there as the guy who might as well have been wearing ‘I’m with the CIA’ on his shirt but has a real knack for playing these morally grey characters.
While this is a film that has really well-crafted action sequences, is well acted, has some of the most spectacular stagings in the business, it is also at times a deeply problematic film. The War on Drugs has been one of the most contentious policy outcomes that America has gotten itself into and for all accounts, it is one that has consistently failed. This is a conflict that has led to thousands of deaths from violence and has not really steamed the tide of drugs destroying lives across America. So within this context, we have people engaging in deeply problematic acts like whole scale slaughter, implied rape, and torture all to help an overly murky end goal. This is a film that uses dismembered human bodies as a set dressing, and while some of this is for highlighting the disconnect of the normalcy in the face of the absurd, a lot of it feels unnecessary. Also, I don’t care about the circumstances, but the killing of children is never justified, so don’t try to make it so.
In the end, do we recommend Sicario? Yes. It is a beautifully created film, it is really well acted, and a master at building tension. However, it is also a film that at times strays into the deeply problematic, and you need to know about that going in.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Sicario
Directed by – Denis Villeneuve
Written by –Taylor Sheridan
Music by – Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cinematography by – Roger Deakins
Edited by – Joe Walker
Starring – Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo Saracino & Maximiliano Hernández
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R