Review: Sicario Is An Intense And Well Acted Ride With An Imperfect Ending
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenwriter: Taylor Sheridan
Principal Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, and Daniel Kaluuya
Summary: An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.
There was once a time where the shortlist for woman that studios would hire for action and “bad ass” roles was very small. Milla Jovovich, Kate Beckinsale, Michelle Rodriguez, and Angelina Jolie were pretty much the only women that were hired to come in and kick butt. These ladies do a fantastic job of kicking butt, but last years Edge of Tomorrow (now retitled to Live, Die, Repeat because Edge of Tomorrow is a terrible title) featured Emily Blunt as the leading lady. She was fantastic in the role and actually looked like someone who could beat up anyone she came across. It was refreshing to see a woman on screen that actually looked physically strong so I was looking forward to Sicario almost entirely for Blunt. I also did my normal thing where I haven’t watched a single trailer so I didn’t know that much going in, aside from the buzz being positive.
Sicario is a punishing movie that excels in tense situations helmed by great performances by Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, but doesn’t seem to pay off in any real way at the end.
I’m going to do my best to talk about this movie without spoiling it, but since the ending was the thing that really hurt the movie for me I kind of need to talk about it. When I get to that point I will clearly mark it with a potential spoiler warning so you can continue to read without being unintentionally spoiled.
This is a movie that starts off with a very large bang and, in this case, the bang is a swat car smashing into a house. There were minor details in this opening scene that I very much enjoyed such as characters becoming ill after finding decomposing bodies. I’ve always found it sort of odd how many movies gloss over how disgusting a decomposing must really be, and I find watching someone puking their guts out to be very humanizing. A sense of humanity is very much the central part of Kate (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya). Their relationship is the perfect example of a male and female platonic relationship that is based on respect. These are two people that obviously love and care about each other very much but they aren’t involved, which is another thing that is not nearly common enough.
The movie is really a three man show between del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Emily Blunt though all three of them are excellent. This is the second time we’ve seen Brolin playing a slightly slimy dirtbag who is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. He’s great but the standout to me was del Toro. His place in the cartel operation is not clear for most of the movie (his motives are a huge driving force behind the plot) but he is so obviously dangerous from the moment he’s onscreen that he is always compelling. Blunt also makes sure that Kate walks the line of being practical and being idealistic. The two of them play off of each other so well and it’s always fun to see them interact. The director, Denis Villeneuve, mostly known for foreign films but made the jump to the US in 2013’s Prisoners, does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of the drug war between the US and Mexico and doesn’t shy away from the people caught in the middle. The music by Jóhann Jóhannsson is also excellent and really helps amp up the tension.
This is where we get into potential spoiler warning where I’m going to try to describe why the ending didn’t quite work for me. If you don’t want to even infer spoilers then I would skip this paragraph to my final thoughts after this paragraph. Sicario spends most of the movie having not much happen. There are scattered moments of extreme violence and terrible things happening, but this is not an action movie with huge set pieces. It’s much more focused on rising tension of the escalating drug war and how we can stop it. This tension builds and builds, like the movie is making its way to some grand point or moment, and then it ends. I have a feeling this is the movie courting realism in that, often, things like drug wars and cartels don’t get all tied up in a neat little bow. I understand what writer Taylor Sheridan was going for but it made the final moments of the movie feel a bit like a let down, like there was something more that should have been there, and it makes the entire movie even more dreary than it already was. There was also an unnecessary thrown away line about “violating your daughter by twenty men” which really wasn’t needed. There could have been a better way to threaten someone that didn’t involve child rape.
Sicario is a movie that people are going to be talking about come the award season. I really think that del Toro and Blunt deserve the praise they are getting and I don’t hold any of the faults of the film against them. I was completely on board until the very end but, even then, I can see what the filmmakers were going for, so while I might not agree with it I do respect it. This is a movie that makes you feel uncomfortable and it is going to stay with you for awhile.