Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sicario: Review

 The word sicario comes from the zealots of Jerusamelm
Killers who hunted the Romans who invaded their homeland
In Mexico, sicario means hitman

The film opens with the above words.  Emily Blunt plays an FBI kidnap response agent, Kate Macer, who is involved in a campaign that results in the shocking discovery of a house of corpses, not hostages.  She has a partner played by Daniel Kaluuya, Reggie Wayne, who is extremely loyal and concerned for her well-being.  Her boss, played by Victor Garber, has nothing but praise and approval for her.  

Emily Blunt as Kate Macer.

Eventually she gets hooked into a special task force run by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) put together in response to cartel activities.  There is a mysterious attorney (Benicio Del Toro), Alejando, who provides Kate with plenty of frustration.  In fact, everyone involved with the task force rubs her the wrong way.  Everyone is way too eager to engage in extralegal and outright illegal activities in the name of United States interests. 

Meanwhile, another mysterious narrative weaves its way in and out featuring a Mexican family consisting of a father, a mother, and a son.  This father is a cop.  These portions portray just how humdrum the narcotics trade in Mexico is.

Josh Brolin as Matt Graver.

This film reminded me of two things: (1) the 2000 film Traffic, which also featured Benicio Del Toro in a film depicting border relations, cartel activities, the desert, and law enforcement tactics, and (2) recent television series The Bridge, which also featured more desert, border relations, cartel activities, and law enforcement response.  The Bridge also featured a female protagonist at the center of events.

Unlike Traffic, this film ends up on a much more ambiguous tone and ultimately feels like much buildup with little payoff.  Sicario excels with a first half filled with high tension, intrigue, and eye-opening depictions of extreme violence based on real life. Yet the final encounter with the cartel boss is underwhelming in more than one way. I wonder if audience numbness was the point?

Benicio Del Toro as Alejandro.
Kate is anything but numbed by all the proceedings whereas I was.  There is an interesting scene when a patriotic hymn is whistled before moments of torture.  That is a none too subtle indictment of American values and actions.

The high point of this film comes relatively early when the task force runs an extraction operation in Mexico in which the trustworthiness of the state police, there to protect them, is put to doubt.  This whole scene is like going through a rabbit hole of Mexican horrors.  Most importantly, it is revealed that all the horror is simply white noise to the American media and populace.  The film never recaptures the thematic or dramatic power after this point.

An example of the arid beauty of Sicario.

I wanted to love Sicario.  It is beautifully photographed and Emily Blunt is one of my favorite actresses, she has a consistently watchable filmography.  I love that she does many smaller projects.  Unfortunately, this film left me wanting more.

However, I think the less you know about the real world truths behind this film's narrative the more you'll enjoy it.  I was exposed to much of these goings-on in college classes so I was less impressed.

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