- Movie Rating -

Sicario (2015)

| October 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

There’s an effective, quiet pall that hangs over every scene of Sicario, an appropriately nervous sense that we have entered into an atmosphere of death. This is refreshingly new. Movies about federal agents at war with the Mexican drug cartels have a tendency to be very slick and unafraid to get into the messier bits of such an unsavory industry. Sicario doesn’t do that. Here is a movie that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. Pulled out of our comfortable American of commercialization, the film takes us into a world that might look right at home in a post-apocalyptic thriller. Yet, this is not about any grand catastrophe between nations; it’s about the drug war that stretches from the southwestern United States all the way into the deepest heart of the Mexican desert.

The purpose of Sicario (which is the Spanish word for ‘hitman’) is to take us into this world and then ask us a question. Should our federal agents have free reign to move into Mexico and bend the rules in order to crack down on drug lords who are spilling poison into our country and theirs? The answer is not as simple as you might think. It is easy to think that procedures must be followed, that laws must be upheld. But what are our government agents to do when a community has become so overrun by drug cartels that naked, decapitated human bodies are displayed in public as a warning?

It is a moral dilemma that lies at the door of FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a relative greenhorn whose experiences are beginning to morph into PTSD. As the movie opens, we find Kate and her fellow agents busting into a house in Chandler, Arizona to find a kidnapping victim. They don’t just kick down the door, they’re tactics involve driving through the sidewall of the house. After a clumsy gun battle with armed criminals, something comes to light that is first spotted through a bullet hole in one of the walls – a gruesome tableau of death. Bodies wrapped in plastic turn up, rows and rows of them. Who are these men? Why are they here?  And how did they meet such a gruesome fate?

The search for those answers begins the next day when Kate is hired to join the intra-agency task force that will move into Mexico, and attempt to disrupt the drug business there. Her immediate superior is a smiling wise-guy black-ops cowboy named Matt (Josh Brolin) who isn’t exactly loose with the details of their mission. She’s none-too-trusting of Matt or his team, and is especially suspicious of a soft-spoken former prosecutor named Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro), a hulking specter whose positioning in this mission has a lot more to do with breaking down the cartels then meets the eye.

Traveling into Mexico with Matt’s squad, Kate is appalled by the lack of procedure at hand.  What they do, and how they get information.  What is most galling to her is that Matt and his team are not interested in arrests but in getting to the kingpin at the center.  The method (as spelled out in the trailer) is to stir the pot, the create a war within the community that will smoke the head man out.  What seems reasonable to everyone else, is appalling to Kate, who still believes that policy and procedure must be observed.

That, really, is the movie’s weak point.  Kate spends the entire movie in private protest over what is going on and how things are being handled.  We, in the audience, applaud the men who are willing to bend the rules.  We understand that they are operating in a den of vicious animals, and certain lines must be crossed, but Kate remains in protest long after it might have seemed that she would come around to their way of thinking.  One might think that she would either be on board for this, or be sent home.

I was also put off by the movie’s third act, where it might have been interesting to see where the infiltration effected the cartels themselves.  Instead the movie turns inward and becomes a more personal drama leading to a showdown that has little if any real resolution.

Those objections aside, this still a very good movie.  It was directed by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve who made the excellent kidnapping drama Prisoners two years ago.  What he shows in both films is his ability to orchestrates scenes.  The scenes involving the feds infiltrating the inner sanctum of the cartel are handled very well because we understand it as part of the story, not as a series of confused editing as a Michael Bay film might.  Villeneuve has the patience to tell this story as it unfolds rather than make it all obvious in the first few minutes.  He gives us that sense that we are wandering through the valley of death where bloody violence springs up out of nowhere and human life is meaningless.  It’s not a perfect movie, but it is a very well made movie, one that has you thinking about it afterwards.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2015) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Drama