Sicario (2015) – Blu-Ray/DVD Review

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Sicario Emily Blunt Josh Brolin Benecio Del Toro walking out of military baseSicario is derived from the name given to the Jewish zealots who killed Roman’s during the occupation of Judea by blending in with crowds then striking them with small daggers. Today it is what south American drug cartels call assassins.

Sicario (the film, obvs), directed by Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Prisoners), opens with FBI agent Kate Macer (played by Emily Blunt) making a horrific discovery during a raid on a nondescript house in Arizona. This bloody discovery represents an escalation in how the Mexican drug cartels operate on the volatile Mexican/American border that threatens to transform into a kind of modern day wild west. Action must be taken.

Macer is soon offered a chance to strike a blow at the drug lords responsible for the atrocities she has to deal with by Matt (Josh Brolin), a cocky and eccentric “consultant with the DoD”. Desperate to make a real difference, Kate agrees to join.

She soon finds herself on a private jet with Matt and another shady professional, Alejandro, played by Benicio Del Toro. But she’s still in the dark, not knowing what the mission objective is, who the target is, or even where they are going. Lost and confused, Alejandro offers her some totally comforting words; “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do. But in the end, you will understand.”

From here, Kate journeys down the rabbit hole with Matt, Alejandro and their not exactly totally legit operation as they “massively overreact”, in order to “shake the tree and cause chaos” for the cartels. The deeper she travels down this hole the darker it gets and the harder it is to determine what is truly right and wrong.

Sicario is a thriller that deals with the theme of morality in extreme situations, much like Prisoners, the previous biggest hit from Villeneuve. Blunt’s Macer wants to a make a difference – a real difference – in the fight against the cartels, but she is also committed to the rule of law, which makes Matt’s missions, which operate in a very grey legal area, a problem for her. She’s with them voluntarily but can’t walk away because…

Aaaaand, this is where Sicario lets itself down a bit. Kate is with Matt and his operation voluntarily, she is even told she can walk away whenever she wants. She constantly protests at their shady actions, but its all jaw-jaw. She is never put in a position where she has to choose to violate her moral code, so she gets to luxuriate as the voice of righteousness without actually taking action to stop what she sees as wrong.

A character like this would have been more effective if, for example, we got a sense that perhaps actually she really enjoyed the Dirty Harry-esque approach to law enforcement and was trying to convince herself otherwise with her protestations, but that never comes across. Kate seems to believe every protest she makes and yet does nothing about it. In the end it makes the character, and the central theme of moral flexibility and ends justifying the means, feel a bit underwritten.

This isn’t a pop at Emily Blunt though who portrays Kate very well as the strong, silent type – dedicated and focused. Del Toro also puts in a very watchable turn as Alejandro, a stronger, silent-er type – damaged and fucked up – while Brolin gets to have a lot of fun as the totally pragmatic, totally amoral Matt.

Sicario police escort in MexicoSicario is also shot with great style, with the rather drab, formal, plain offices on the American side of the border contrasted with the dusty, broken-down almost wild west feel of the Mexican side. And the soundtrack, though sparse, adds greatly to the overall style, with its low, throbbing tones engendering a sense of dread towards a malevolent source.

To get too hung up on the depth of the characters is perhaps a tad unfair though. Sicario’s strength lies in its plotting – the first half pushes you along with the mystery of what Brolin’s wild cartel ride is all about, while the second half pulls you to the end as you wonder how far they will go in their pursuit of the cartel bosses.

You’ll struggle to see a more tightly plotted, stylish thriller in any given year. And while the moral conflict never quite rings true it never truly detracts from the overall picture either, it simply feels like a missed opportunity. What comes across though is that the cartels are brutal, their means are brutal, and it can be a struggle to counter brutality with pure, legal reactions. As Alejandro tells Kate; “You will not survive here. You’re not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.”

Sicario is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from February 1.

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David Price is the editor of Gorilla Film Online and co-writer/co-producer of MarsCorp and The Bunker podcasts. He has made a number of short films and has watched more than 12 feature films. Writers/con-artists can contact him at daveprice at gorillafilmmagazine.com

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