Film Review: Sicario (USA, 2015)

Sicario resembles Donald Trump’s big problem with the Mexican border, and renders his wall solution useless. For her part, FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) is kicking down doors from minute one. Just as quickly, she realises that is not fixing anything. So when Matt (Josh Brolin in a Mark Zuckerberg outfit) offers her some real ways to fight the cartel, she is all for it.

Whenever she asks what those ways are, however, or for an objective, Matt is cheerfully evasive. His methods don’t seem to be within any jurisdiction she is aware of. Indeed, she is never really clear on what his jurisdiction is. Maybe CIA? All she, and we, know about him is what we see: he seems to be having fun. Perpetually chewing gum, Matt is excited by the prospect of action of any kind. Wet willies are as amusing to him as any other method of persuasion. He is like a prankster or bully appointed by elected officials.

His associate, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) is even more mysterious. He is fearless in battle, but when he sleeps his hand shakes. We don’t know why, and he has no intention of telling: “You ask how the watch is made. Keep your eye on the time.” Kate, as a result, swings oppressively between outrage and curiosity.

It’s better not to say too much, and promise that this film is anything but anticlimactic. Director Denis Villeneuve keeps us one step behind the action and the story, both of which reveal themselves with explosive intensity. Even Jóhann Jóhannsson ‘s score ticks excruciatingly towards doom.

My clearance level on US/cartel relations is, well… pretty low. But certain ambiguities in the relationship are not unheard of. Are they really as bad-ass? Or is this what John le Carre would call plausible nonsense? I think the most frightening thing is how plausible it is. Writer Taylor Sheridan exploits this by keeping the script focused on the operations. This is well complimented by Roger Deakins’ realistic and typically exquisite lighting.

The verisimilitude wavers only when the narrative does, namely towards Kate’s personal life. The character is likable and highly empathetic, but some of the friendly discussions between Kate and fellow FBI agent Reggie (a sweet-faced Daniel Kaluuya) lean towards overkill. In one scene he is deriding her for the sorry state of her eyebrows. Before Emily Blunt sheepishly hides them behind her hands, we see they are, as always, perfection.


Sicario is in cinemas now.


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