Movie Review - Sicario

The Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men is the film that kept coming to mind, and not just because Josh Brolin is present here. The film states that Sicario is a term in Mexico that means hitman or assassin. The Coen Brothers put their assassin more front and center than director Denis Villenueve does here, but instead of focusing on the person being chased and the police on the hunt, this movie is about how the assassin is not some unwanted evil. It's more about how the assassin is actually a necessary evil, a hero in a sense, or, more in-line with current culture's love of anti-heroes and vigilantes, circumventing the law because it's inadequate, or else it's just a more pretentious revenge flick.

This film is so cynical. It advocates eye-for-an-eye, and criminality to combat criminality. It puts forth this heartless killer as the needed savior. It paints him as the only way potentially to make things better. I also wonder if this film's makers would mock someone like Donald Trump for his statements about Mexicans when this film's portrait of Mexico has been painted with such a horrible broad-brush, as almost to be tantamount to what Trump said.

Written by Taylor Sheridan, the movie loses sight of its inciting incident. The FBI in Arizona go to a hostage situation. The FBI's SWAT team descends and discovers a home where dozens of people have been killed. Even some FBI agents are killed in the raid. The FBI believe that these deaths are connected to a drug cartel and they've identified men involved at top levels who become targets.

Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada and Edge of Tomorrow) stars as Kate Macer, the FBI agent who is recruited to be a liaison for an inter-agency operation to go after the men at the top level of the drug cartel. Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men and Milk) co-stars as Matt Graver, a specialist with the other agency who is leading the operation and Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro (Traffic and 21 Grams) plays Alejandro, a mysterious agent who isn't American and not quite a person who works within the bounds.

Daniel Kaluuya plays Reggie Wayne, a FBI agent and partner to Kate whom she brings along for the operation. He underlines Kate's and the movie's chief conflict. Kate knows that they're hunting the top guys in the drug cartel, but she's not fully aware of the true plan as well as Matt and Alejandro's tactics, and what she does come to know, she doesn't like.

The true plan and tactics are morally questionable, if not outright objectionable. It echoes Villenueve's previous film Prisoners, which is about a good person being pushed to do morally objectionable things in order to solve a horrible crime. This film has a good person realizing that morally questionable things are being done also in the name of solving a horrible crime.

Yet, that slight difference makes the film less of a personal journey. The character of Kate never has to make choices to change either for the better or the worse. The character is always just a cog in a machine, a glorified observer. That could be interesting in itself, but ultimately it's not very engaging. It's predictable and boring. Each character does what is expected, and Blunt's character doesn't go on the ride that Jessica Chastain's does in Zero Dark Thirty.

Yes, by the end, Kate has a choice to make and the choice she makes is indicative of an arc. Sadly, that arc is more straight as it is curved, and, for me, I like arcs that are more curved. I hoped that the decision she made wouldn't be the predictable one, that her character would take a huge step, but, no, her character makes the obvious choice and that ultimately was boring. It was boring even though the choice involved putting a gun to someone's head. Villenueve or Sheridan made a gun-to-the-head boring.

Their lasting image of Mexico is that it's a land of wolves. Speaking of Zero Dark Thirty, Mexico here might as well as be Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq. Particularly, the border town of Juárez is depicted as just a veritable war-zone, only a haven of corruption, constant death and destruction. For all those offended by Donald Trump's statements about Mexicans, this movie by Villenueve isn't all that dissimilar in its portrait of Mexicans. The portrayal of Mexicans is almost on par with the portrayal of Iraqis or Muslims in general in American Sniper. It's not the same but it's close.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong violence, grisly images, and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 1 min.

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