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Donald Trump would love this film for all the wrong reasons. It features his favorite villains: Mexican drug lords abusing the country’s border, making the U.S. and Mexico unsafe. But a Trumped-up lens would likely miss the central parable at the heart of “Sicario,” a crime thriller that shames too many played-out mob films. Where’s the line in the pursuit of justice, and how can ideals exist in the borderlands?
FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is relatively new on the job, but she successfully led several raids on drugs houses in search of hostages in Arizona. She catches the eye of special consultant Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who asks her to serve as an intermediary between the feds and his task force. Who knows if he’s CIA, military or something else entirely?
On day one, she ends up in Juárez, Mexico as part of a prisoner detail. She’s completely out of her element but, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) provides her ample tips about how to survive. Too bad he never explains his role. We quickly learn how talented he is with a gun and a water dispenser tank when torturing prisoners, but what’s his story? He’s not American, but he doesn’t work for the Mexican government either.
Little makes sense for Macer, so she starts smoking again and simply observes much of the chaos around her on missions. And while plenty of shots are fired, hers is turmoil of the moral soul. Fresh off the farm, hardly the best shooter or tactician in the room, this young agent must navigate ambiguities in jurisdictions and due process.
At this point, organized crime films are rather dull. We get it. Unsavory folks reside in New York, Boston and Jersey. But “Sicario” showcases a different breed of horror and corruption. If you’ve seen “Traffic,” this might feel like well-traveled territory, but the tone is all its own. Don’t plan to do anything after the movie. This is what immediate depression feels like. It’s a great ride, but it’s a dark one too.
Del Toro’s Alejandro feels familiar: he’s the U.S.’s plausible deniability. He commits horrible atrocities in the name of the greater good, and we never know what he did and how he accomplished it. He’s both horrifying and kind, even tormented. The trailer does not remotely present how complex he really is. How could he not be intriguing though? He’s Benicio del Toro.
Brolin, as Graver, is your typical Machiavellian leader, willing to do anything to reach his goals. He’s the pragmatic one. He makes plans, stays on the job at all times and thinks about the big picture. Macer’s ideals just don’t bring about lasting change, Graver claims. And Graver knows how to use a dash of charisma to lead his soldiers into the war on drugs. He’s like Ben Carson: his ideas go down easy as long as you don’t consider the ramifications for the future.
As for Blunt’s Macer, she’s the only character who goes through any kind of progression. Everyone else is fully actualized, likely more for worse than better, but Macer is new to everything. It’s a fascinating journey even if it fizzles by the end of the third act.
Apparently the original film producers feared placing a women in the lead of a crime thriller, so we should commend the filmmaker for sticking to the original screenwriter’s vision and presenting one of the more compelling female roles this year. I’m sure it would work with a male lead, but Blunt shines too bright to be outdone by gender stereotype.
But if you expect her to merely channel that soldier from “Edge of Tomorrow,” you’ll be disappointed. She’s more an observer, perhaps even a pawn. Like Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” her presence doesn’t change the outcome at all. But that doesn’t minimize her journey either. Remember, this is a morality tale more than an action film.
For that matter, “Sicario” sucks as an actioner. It starts strong, but much of Macer’s story occurs between gunshots. She witnesses a world I pray doesn’t really exist. I know nothing about Juárez, and this one will make you rethink ever going on there. I’m definitely going to skip Arizona too. Too hot and druggy.
“Sicario” is one of the best films this year. Rumor is Lionsgate already has a sequel in the works, and if they can replicate the dynamic cast, namely Blunt, Brolin and del Toro, border drug films might just save the entire organized crime genre.
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Dear Mr. Posada,
Enjoyed your review of ‘Sicario’. I read it after having seen the film. Your take on film is pretty much right on target. But you had to do what many reviewers do by saying something so way off the mark which reveals that on some important level you really don’t ‘get’ what director, Denis Villenueve was going for and accomplished. Your comment, ‘For that matter ‘Sicario’ sucks as an actioner.’ Yo dude, the film is not an ‘actioner’. It doesn’t purport to be an ‘actioner.’ Why put that out there? It doesn’t serve you well to say as much. Please be smart next time by reviewing any given film for it is and not what it isn’t. As the case may be. Thanks for reading, Glenn